George Duke was born in San Rafael, California, and reared in Marin City, a working class section of Marin County. When he was just four years old, his mother took him to see Duke Ellington in concert. I don't remember it too well, says George, but my mother told me I went crazy. I ran around saying 'Get me a piano, get me a piano!' He began his piano studies at age seven, absorbing the roots of Black music in his local Baptist church. That's where I first began to play funky. I really learned a lot about music from the church. I saw how music could trigger emotions in a cause-and-effect relationship.
By the age of sixteen, George had played with a number of high school jazz groups. He was heavily influenced by Miles Davis and the soul-jazz sound of Les McCann and Cal Tjader. Attending the San Francisco Conservatory Of Music and majoring in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass, he received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1967.
George and a young singer named Al Jarreau formed a group which became the house band at San Francisco's Half Note Club. There was another club up the street called The Both/And and I worked there on Mondays with everybody from Letta Mbulu to Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon. George later received a Masters Degree in composition from San Francisco State University and briefly taught a course on Jazz And American Culture at Merritt Junior College in Oakland. It was about this time that George began to release a series of jazz LP's on the MPS label.