Born in San Rafael, California, George Duke aspired to a music career from an early age, after his mother took him to a Duke Ellington concert. "I remember seeing this guy in a white suit, playing this big thing, which I later found out was a piano," Duke told us in an interview in 1997. "He had all these guys around him, and he was waving his hands conducting, and he spoke very intelligently and seemed to be having a good time. And his name was Duke, and my last name was Duke. I told my mom, 'I want to be him.' That moment in time set the stage for me."
Over the course of his four-decade-plus career, the Grammy Award-winning keyboardist put out more than 40 albums and collaborated with artists such as Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Jill Scott and Michael Jackson. His music was also sampled by Kanye West, Daft Punk and Common.
"It's a wonderful thing that has happened under the banner of jazz," Duke told of his career longevity. "In R&B and rock, when you are over a certain age, they say goodbye to you. But in jazz, you just kind of level off and continue to gain respect, so long as you keep your integrity."
USA TODAY, 1997