An Interview With Pianist And Singer Charles Duke


By Taroue Brooks

How did you get started with playing the piano and singing?

My Mom was my first piano teacher and introduced me to the instrument. I remember her asking me if I wanted to learn how to play when I was younger. After learning my notes from her I started playing for the children’s choir at church. Several years later, my Dad found a piano teacher who would become like my musical mother introducing me to classical, jazz, theory and songwriting.

Singing came later for me. I sang in choir at church and would sing at home. In my teens, I started writing songs after my piano teacher gave me her 8 track to record music. That was the game-changing moment for me. In middle school and high school, I was in just about every school band and started choral singing in high school. Music’s always been my life and where I have felt most at home.

At what point did you realize you wanted to perform as a professional?

Adults would ask me when I was younger what I wanted to be, and I would say I want to be a professional pianist. I said it just because that’s what I enjoyed the most, not because I’d thought about what a profession meant really. It was that way from as early as I can remember.

Music has always been the thing I’ve been most passionate about. I remember being very shy and quiet in elementary school and tease for my soft voice. In Mrs. Logston’s third grade music class after our lesson on folk music she let me play the Spiderman theme that I had learned on piano over the weekend. In that moment, I became the cool kid in music class. I enjoyed realizing that something I loved could have a positive impact when I shared it with others.

What type of training have you had to enhance your skills as an entertainer?

I studied classical piano at the University of Miami during college and Piano and Vocal Pedagogy through college and afterwards. I’ve had my own studio teaching piano and voice, studied music theory and competed in music theory and classical piano and jazz competitions growing up. Countless lessons, master classes, performances, collaborations, and simply being present in life and paying attention all have enhanced my skills as an entertainer.

However, my biggest training as a professional has been living and performing in New York City. It’s in the energy of the city and what it requires of you. Watching legends perform nightly, performing for legends and sharing the joy of the audience, seeing the process of my peers, feeling the energy in a room shift has been invaluable and has filled me with so much joy, knowledge and respect for artistry and music.

What would be the best gig ever and why?

Hmm, that’s always evolving for me. So many gigs I would love to play. More immediately maybe the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Speaking more broadly, something more of a constant for me, the best gig ever is when I, the band and the audience are so in sync that time melts away. You can feel the audience elevating with you and they’re vibing your energy and you’re vibing theirs. Nothing tops that. The best gig ever is when I’m able to share original music with an audience with open hearts. And we are each exchanging light and love with one another. Why? Because I believe that we all are searching for and are most fulfilled when we are connected with one another.

Each opportunity to perform original music is a gift that I cherish; it’s in alignment with my purpose. Technology has created so many types of opportunities in how music is shared. But, for me, nothing’s better than performing live.

What advice do you have for someone who seeks to be in the entertainment business?

My advice is always to study your craft and hold on to who you are and what you believe in. I know that advice is softer than what some may share; I still think it matters to do what you love. So, be knowledgeable about what you love.

How would you describe your experience in NYC?

NYC has definitely been an adventure. I could write several books on several subjects about it all. I vaguely remember asking for an adventure before arriving, which has helped my perspective on it all. There have been moments that were incredibly challenging; and moments that have been better than any movie I’ve ever seen. Life and complete summers have been movies. NYC is definitely a bubble and at times a place unto itself. I am incredibly grateful for every moment and every experience in the city because I know that it has, is, and will contribute to my art and expression. Harlem has become a home, and that was always a dream of mine.

What’s next on the horizon for your career?

Something inside of me wants to experience living and performing internationally. The Harlem Paris connection has been calling me. I’m still seeking to understand more of what that’s about. I don’t speak French, but I want to experience that on my journey.

I have recorded a new single “Can You See” with my band along which I plan to release soon, along with new music for the summer. I’ve begun exploring acting and placing my music in film and television. And writing music for other artists is really a passion I’m feeling more called to, also. It’s about spreading love and joy.

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Charles Duke is an award-winning singer-songwriter, classically trained pianist, composer, arranger, and music director. As a solo artist, he has released four EPs and most recently his first album “The Orchid Room”. Inspired by songwriters ranging from Cole Porter to Ashford & Simpson, his music and compositions fuse jazz, soul, pop, and classical music elements and his songwriting is influenced by the human experience.

In 2016, Charles was awarded the “Reach Out And Touch” American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Foundation Award for his songwriting skills in honor of Nick Ashford from legendary songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson. In addition to his own body of work as a solo artist, he has written and composed songs for other artists, television projects, and award-winning films, including MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.

Charles has performed private events for artist Adele, actress Cicely Tyson’s historic Oscar ceremony celebration, politicians Maxine Waters and members of the National Black Caucus, and galas for Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. He’s performed in the Off-Broadway production of Sleep No More and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) annual Broadway Stands Up for Freedom benefit concert. Charles has held residencies at the Waldorf Astoria, Innside by Melia, Robert Restaurant, the Plaza Hotel, and performed at locations throughout Manhattan including the Lincoln Center.

His new debut album ‘The Orchid Room’ is now available on all major digital platforms. It is a sensual intimate conversation about love and relationships.

Charles is a native of Atlanta, GA, who graduated from the University of Miami and studied at the Frost School of Music. He currently resides in Harlem, NY.