There have been numerous reports that pioneering jazz fusion keyboardist George Duke has passed away at age 67. Duke allegedly died Aug. 5 at St. John’s Hospital in Los Angeles. The news comes only a year after the musician lost his wife to a battle with cancer. Duke had only recently released his latest album Dreamweaver in tribute to her. Thus far, the only “official” statement regarding Duke’s death has come from former Supremes member Scherrie Payne.
Payne shared this with the Motown Alumni Association’s Ron Brewington:
“I just received the devastating and sad news that the great musician, George Duke, passed away this evening at St. John’s hospital in L.A. It was just one year earlier, July 18, that his beloved wife and my friend, Corine, went to be with the Lord,” Payne reportedly said. “Please keep his sons, Rashid and John, in your prayers.”
Duke had as lengthy and varied musical career as any of his peers. Releasing his first album in 1967, Duke later came to the attention of famed art rocker Frank Zappa, as well as legendary jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Duke would spend the late ’60s through the mid ’70s working with both artists extensively; joining Zappa’s Mothers of Invention while also serving as Adderley’s pianist.
The mid-’70s were Duke’s most fruitful and acclaimed as a solo artist; as he released such landmark jazz-funk fusion albums as Faces In Reflection, She Heard My Cry and Feel. His commercial peak arrived in 1978s Reach For It, which proved to be a polarizing release — as some jazz purists derided Duke for his embracing of funk, disco and soul sounds.
Unswayed by criticism, Duke partnered with jazz bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke in the early 1980s; and as the Clarke/Duke Project, they scored a Top 20 crossover pop hit with “Sweet Baby.” After scoring an R&B hit with 1993s “No Rhyme, No Reason,” Duke spent the majority of the late 90s and early 2000s continuing to explore his own musical boundaries. He released the concept work The Muir Woods Suite and switching to acoustic piano on Face the Music. In his latter career, he returned to the jazz/funk that made him famous and continued to be one of the most in-demand performers in the genre.
Also a noteworthy producer, Duke worked on tracks for A Taste of Honey, Deniece Williams, Jeffrey Osborne and numerous others.