Charles Duke is a singer, songwriter, composer and classically trained pianist residing in Harlem, New York. His work fuses jazz, soul, pop, and classical music elements with engaging lyrical imagery.
Duke wrote poetry before he began songwriting. He wrote his first song for his 6th grade English class after an assignment on language. He remembers, “The lyrics were of Anthony and Cleopatra’s love and longing. That experience of creating something mesmerized me.”
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, he studied piano at an early age participating in and winning piano competitions. It would become classical piano technique and Romantic period composers like Chopin and Brahms that would guide his approach to his primary songwriting instrument. He also played for the church. “In church, I discovered the power of music. And words. It’s all spiritual. And together they can heal.” Duke says.
Along with these experiences in church and music training, three musical icons have influenced Charles’ approach: Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Prince. Charles Duke shares that their inspiration and influence in his music comes from their musicianship and artistry. He says, “Ray’s feeling and emotion go right into your soul; Stevie’s optimism and genius, scientific understanding of the elements of love bring people together; and Prince’s sensuality and sexuality… Well, they erect a special kind of love.”
These are the elements Charles strives to express within his own art and with his own sound. The core themes of Charles’ music are love, relationships, and encouragement. He is aware of these themes even with his voice.
He says “When I sing, I think of it as though I’m having a conversation with one person. No matter how many people are in the room. Because I’ve discovered that you’re only ever really speaking to one person at a time.”
After high school, Duke received a scholarship to study piano at the University of Miami and later earned a B.A. in Spanish. In 2012, Charles moved to New York City to further his career as a performer and songwriter.
Since his arrival in the city, Duke has performed throughout Manhattan at venues like Rockwood Music Hall, Pianos, and Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar. His music has been performed at Carnegie Hall in the off broadway musical performance of Fannie Lou. His arrangement of Harry Belafonte’s civil rights staple “Oh, Freedom” was performed live on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC. He has had two installations of the Charles Duke & Friends™ series at Cheri Harlem featuring his original compositions performed by notable vocalists in New York City.
In collaboration with eleven New York City based professional musicians, Charles curated a Freedom Concert. This Freedom Concert was held at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine where Duke performed his poignant original soul song “Four Black Men” from his album AMERICAN SKIN on Duke Ellington's famous white piano. The concert raised several thousand dollars for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
As a pianist, he is regularly engaged at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Cole Porter’s piano and Robert Restaurant at Columbus Circle. Additional appearances include The Plaza Hotel and the off-broadway hit musical, Sleep No More, at the McKittrick Hotel.
To date, Charles has produced and released four EP projects as an indie artist. BlueTreble (2010), Hello Christmas (2011), Midnight Lover (2014), and most recently AMERICAN SKIN (2015) available on iTunes, Amazon and www.charlesdukemusic.com.
Currently, he is working on his first album. The live studio version of his new song Cupid’s Arrow can be seen on his website www.charlesdukemusic.com.
“A person is a universe. Words are worlds. Music is a portal. And all the atoms are love— I’m fascinated by all of it.” -Charles Duke, 2016
Follow Charles Duke on Instagram at @DukeCharles and Twitter @Charles_Duke