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Grover Washington Jr.

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Grover Washington Jr.
Washington in 1995
Washington in 1995
Background information
Birth nameGrover Washington Jr.
Born(1943-12-12)December 12, 1943
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 17, 1999(1999-12-17) (aged 56)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Instrument(s)Saxophone, flute
Years active1967–1999
LabelsKudu, Motown, Elektra, Columbia
Spouse(s)Christine Washington

Grover Washington Jr. (December 12, 1943 – December 17, 1999)[1][2] was an American jazz-funk and soul-jazz saxophonist and Grammy Award winner. Along with Wes Montgomery and George Benson, he is considered by many to be one of the founders and legends of the smooth jazz genre.[3] He wrote some of his material and later became an arranger and producer.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Washington made some of the genre's most memorable hits, including "Mister Magic", "Reed Seed", "Black Frost", "Winelight", "Inner City Blues", "Let it Flow (For 'Dr. J')", and "The Best is Yet to Come". In addition, he performed very frequently with other artists, including Bill Withers on "Just the Two of Us", Patti LaBelle on "The Best Is Yet to Come", and Phyllis Hyman on "A Sacred Kind of Love". He is also remembered for his take on the Dave Brubeck classic "Take Five", and for his 1996 version of "Soulful Strut".

Early life[edit]

Washington was born in Buffalo, New York, United States, on December 12, 1943.[4] His mother was a church chorister, and his father was a collector of old jazz gramophone records and a saxophonist as well, so music was everywhere in the home. He grew up listening to the great jazzmen and big band leaders like Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and others like them. At the age of 8, Grover Sr. gave Jr. a saxophone. He practiced and would sneak into clubs to see famous Buffalo blues musicians. His younger brother, drummer Daryl Washington, would follow in his footsteps. He also had another younger brother named Michael Washington, who was an accomplished Gospel Music organist who mastered the Hammond B3 organ. He was part of a vocal ensemble, The Teen Kings, which included Lonnie Smith.


Early career[edit]

Washington left Buffalo and played with a Midwest group called the Four Clefs and then the Mark III Trio from Mansfield, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he met drummer Billy Cobham. A music mainstay in New York City, Cobham introduced Washington to many New York musicians. After leaving the Army, Washington freelanced his talents around New York City, eventually landing in Philadelphia in 1967.[1] In 1970 and 1971, he appeared on Leon Spencer's first two albums on Prestige Records, together with Idris Muhammad and Melvin Sparks.

Washington's big break came when alto sax man Hank Crawford was unable to make a recording date with Creed Taylor's Kudu Records,[5] and Washington took his place, even though he was a backup. This led to his first solo album, Inner City Blues. He was talented and displayed heart and soul with soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Refreshing for his time, he made headway into the jazz mainstream.

Rise to fame[edit]

While his first three albums established him as a force in jazz and soul music, it was his fourth album in 1974, Mister Magic, that proved a major commercial success. The album climbed to number 1 on Billboard's R&B album chart and number 10 on Billboard's Top 40 album chart. The title track reached No. 16 on the R&B singles chart (#54, pop). All these albums included guitarist Eric Gale as a near-permanent member in Washington's arsenal.[1] His follow-up on Kudu in 1975, Feels So Good also made No. 1 on Billboard's R&B album chart and No. 10 on the pop album chart. Both albums were major parts of the jazz-funk movement of the mid-1970s.[4]

A string of acclaimed records brought Washington through the 1970s, culminating in the signature piece for everything he would do from then on. Winelight (1980) was the album that defined everything Washington was then about, having signed for Elektra Records, part of the major Warner Music group. The album was smooth, fused with R&B and easy listening feel. Washington's love of basketball, especially the Philadelphia 76ers, led him to dedicate the second track, "Let It Flow", to Julius Erving (Dr. J). The highlight of the album was his collaboration with soul artist Bill Withers, "Just the Two of Us", a hit on radio during the spring and summer of 1981, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.[4] The album went platinum in 1981,[4] and also won Grammy Awards in 1982 for Best R&B Song ("Just The Two of Us"), and Best Jazz Fusion Performance ("Winelight"). "Winelight" was also nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.[1]

In the post-Winelight era, Washington is credited for giving rise to a new batch of talent that would make its mark in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He is known for bringing Kenny G to the forefront, as well as artists such as Walter Beasley, Steve Cole, Pamela Williams, Najee, Boney James and George Howard. His song "Mister Magic" is noted as being influential on go-go music starting in the mid-1970s.[6]


Instrument Brand/Model Mouthpiece Reed
Soprano Saxophone H. Couf Superba I, black nickel plated Runyon Custom #8 Rico Royal #5
Alto Saxophone Selmer Mark VI New York Meyer U.S.A. 7MM Rico Royal #5
Tenor Saxophone H. Couf Superba I, gold plated Berg Larsen Hard Rubber 130/0 Rico Royal #5

(Although he was later photographed with Keilwerth SX90 and SX90R black nickel plated soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones on album covers, he rarely played them live or in the studio.)


On December 17, 1999, five days after his 56th birthday, Washington collapsed while waiting in the green room after performing four songs for The Saturday Early Show, at CBS Studios in New York City. He was taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 7:30 pm. His doctors determined that he had suffered a massive heart attack.[1] He is interred at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.


A large mural of Washington, part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, is just south of the intersection of Broad and Diamond streets.[7][8] A Philadelphia middle school in the Olney section of the city is named after Washington. Grover Washington Jr. Middle School caters to fifth- to eighth-grade students interested in the creative and performing arts.[9]

There is a mural dedicated to Grover Washington, Jr. in Buffalo, where he grew up and attended school.[10]

Inductions and other awards[edit]

In 1992, Washington was inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk Of Fame.[11][12]

On April 24, 2023, Washington was inducted into the newly established, Atlantic City Walk Of Fame presented by, The National R&B Music Society Inc.[13][14] Washington's daughter Shana Washington, was in attendance to accept the honor. Jazz and R&B artist Jean Carn inducted Washington. James Brown, The Delfonics and Little Anthony & The Imperials were also inducted in the inaugural class.[15][16]



As leader[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
US 200
US Jazz
1972 Inner City Blues 62 8 4
All the King's Horses 111 20 1
1973 Soul Box 100 26 1
1975 Mister Magic 10 1 1
Feels So Good 10 1 1
1976 A Secret Place 31 7 1
1977 Live at The Bijou 11 4 1
1978 Reed Seed 35 7 1
1979 Paradise 24 15 2
1980 Skylarkin' 24 8 1
Winelight 5 2 1 35 34
1981 Come Morning 28 1 98
Baddest 96 40 5
Anthology 149 44 11
1982 The Best Is Yet to Come 50 8 1 100
1984 Inside Moves 79 21 3
1986 A House Full of Love 125 52 25
1987 Strawberry Moon 66 29 100
1988 Then and Now 2
1989 Time Out of Mind 60 1
1992 Next Exit 149 26 1
1994 All My Tomorrows 2
1996 Soulful Strut 187 45 2
1997 Breath of Heaven: A Holiday Collection 7
2000 Aria
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.

As sideman[edit]


Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications
US Pop
1971 "Inner City Blues" 42
1972 "Mercy Mercy Me"
"No Tears in the End" 49
1973 "Masterpiece"
1975 "Mister Magic" 54 16
1976 "Knucklehead"
1977 "Summer Song" 57
1978 "Do Dat" 75
1979 "Tell Me About It Now" 57
1980 "Snake Eyes" 88
1981 "Just the Two of Us" 2 3 34
1982 "Be Mine (Tonight)" 92 13
"Jamming" 65
1983 "The Best Is Yet to Come" 14
1984 "Inside Moves" 79
1987 "Summer Nights" 35
1989 "Jamaica"
1990 "Sacred Kind of Love" 21
1992 "Love Like This" 31
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.


  1. ^ a b c d e Yanow, Scott. "Grover Washington, Jr. - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  2. ^ "Grover Washington Grammy". www.grammy.com. Retrieved February 18, 2023.
  3. ^ Richard J. Lawn (March 20, 2013). Experiencing Jazz. Routledge. p. 337. ISBN 9781135042691.
  4. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1234/5. ISBN 978-1-85227-745-1.
  5. ^ "Cti Records: Kudu". Archived from the original on February 6, 2012. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
  6. ^ Chang, Jeff (June 2001). "Wind me up, Chuck!". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Archived from the original on August 31, 2001. Retrieved June 1, 2007.
  7. ^ Lewis, Susan (July 10, 2017). "Looking at the Mural of Grover Washington, Jr. You Can Almost Hear the Music". WRTI. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  8. ^ "Google Maps". Google Maps. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  9. ^ "Points of Pride - The School District of Philadelphia". Webgui.phila.k12.pa.us. Archived from the original on March 6, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  10. ^ Lippa, Nick (October 13, 2020). "Grover Washington Jr. mural brings a little Mister Magic to Buffalo's East Side". News.wbfo.org. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  11. ^ "Grover Washington, Jr. | Walk of Fame". Philadelphia Music Alliance. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  12. ^ Worrell, Carolina (April 25, 2019). "First All-Jazz Induction to Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame Scheduled for Oct. 19". JazzTimes. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  13. ^ "GALLERY: Atlantic City Walk of Fame". Press of Atlantic City. April 13, 2023. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  14. ^ Fertsch, Cindy (February 27, 2023). "The National Rhythm & Blues Music Society Inc. Presents The Atlantic City Walk of Fame & Induction Ceremony". Shore Local Newsmagazine. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  15. ^ Fertsch, Cindy (April 26, 2023). "The National Rhythm & Blues Music Society Inc. inducts artists into the first 'Walk of Fame'". Shore Local Newsmagazine. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  16. ^ "Atlantic City Walk of Fame". Press of Atlantic City. April 24, 2023. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  17. ^ a b c "Grover Washington, Jr. - Awards". AllMusic. Archived from the original on November 16, 2012. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  18. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 333. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  19. ^ a b "GROVER WASHINGTON JR - full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  20. ^ a b "British certifications – Grover Washington Jr". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 19, 2024. Type Grover Washington Jr in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  21. ^ a b "Grover Washington Jr. Top Songs / Chart Singles Discography". Music VF. Retrieved November 25, 2021.

External links[edit]