George Winston, the singular pianist who fused inspirations from stride, R&B and New Age styles to create his own smooth instrumental music, died June 4 at age 73. He had been battling cancer for the past 10 years, according to a statement on his website.
The news comes after the Grammy-winning musician — he also played harmonica and acoustic guitar — underwent bone marrow transplants in 2003 and 2012. He released his 16th studio album, Night, on May 6, 2022, via RCA Records but postponed this year’s tour dates because of his health. He had been planning to resume touring in 2024.
Winston sold 15 million albums as he cultivated his folk-piano style, winning the New Age Grammy in 1996 for Forest, his seventh album. He built a fanbase with LPs featuring titles such as Autumn, December, Summer and Restless Wind. He scored five other Grammy nominations in his career that began with his first solo piano album, eventually known as Ballads and Blues 1972.
Winston hit in 1982 with his fourth album, December, a collection of Christmas standards that he arranged and performed. It would resurface several times on Billboard’s annual Christmas charts and eventually went gold.
He would launch his own label, Dancing Cat Records, in 1983. Specializing in Hawaiian music, it was distributed by Windham Hill for 35 years and also released some of Winston’s discs.
The following year, Windham Hill reissued his previous two albums — Winter into Spring (1982) and Autumn (1980) — and both were certified platinum in 1987 for sales of 1 million units. His other half-million-selling gold albums were December, Summer, Forest, Plains and Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, a tribute to the composer behind the classic holiday toon A Charlie Brown Christmas.
His music also included 2002’s Night Divides the Day: The Music of the Doors, which featured instrumental piano takes on songs by The Doors. He also recorded tributes for Hurricane Katrina relief, the Louisiana wetlands and a cancer research benefit for City of Hope (where he had his transplant) via RCA and Dancing Cat.
Winston is survived by his sister, niece and nephew. His family will hold a private memorial service. Donations in his memory can be made to Feeding America, City of Hope Cancer Center or Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.