Pianist George Winston has died. “We are deeply saddened to share the news that George Winston has passed away after a 10-year battle with cancer,” reads a note posted to Winston’s official Facebook page. “George quietly and painlessly left this world while asleep on Sunday, June 4, 2023. George courageously managed serious cancers, including having a successful bone marrow transplant for Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) in 2013 at City of Hope, in Duarte, California, that gratefully extended his life by 10 years.” Winston was 73.
The full statement is below:
We are deeply saddened to share the news that George Winston has passed away after a 10-year battle with cancer. George quietly and painlessly left this world while asleep on Sunday, June 4, 2023. George courageously managed serious cancers, including having a successful bone marrow transplant for Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) in 2013 at City of Hope, in Duarte, California, that gratefully extended his life by 10 years. Throughout his cancer treatments, George continued to write and record new music, and he stayed true to his greatest passion: performing for live audiences while raising funds for Feeding America to help fight the national hunger crisis along with donating proceeds from each of his concerts to local food banks. Across an illustrious career spanning more than 50 years, George’s music first became known and loved by his fans with the release of his two most iconic albums, Autumn (1980) and December (1982). George’s recordings evolved with the times while garnering a GRAMMY Award for Forest (plus five GRAMMY nominations) and selling over 15 million albums. George touched the hearts of generations with his acclaimed solo acoustic piano compositions. From his early days in Montana, Mississippi and Florida, to his later life living in the San Francisco Bay Area and touring to cities worldwide, America’s beautiful landscapes and natural seasons shaped his singular instrumental folk piano. With 16 solo piano albums to his name, George recorded brilliant piano music, which includes tribute recordings for Vince Guaraldi, The Doors, a Hurricane Katrina relief benefit, Gulf Coast and Louisiana Wetlands benefits, September 11 benefit, a cancer research benefit for City of Hope, the Peanuts episode “This Is America Charlie Brown: The Birth Of The Constitution,” among others. George’s legacy includes his beloved catalog as well as an archive of his own acoustic guitar and harmonica recordings, and albums by an array of Hawaiian slack key artists on his own record label, Dancing Cat Records. George is pre-deceased by his parents, George and Mary Winston, and is survived by his sister, niece and nephew.
Born in Michigan in 1949, Winston was raised in Montana and started playing the organ after hearing the Doors in 1967. He switched to piano, newly inspired by artists such as Thomas “Fats” Waller, Teddy Wilson, later Earl Hines, Donald Lambert, and Cleo Brown.
In his professional life, Winston was first recorded by noted fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey for Fahey’s Takoma Records, which released Winston’s 1973 debut, Piano Solos. In 1979, William Ackerman asked Winston to for Ackerman’s new label, Windham Hill Records, which resulted in 1980’s Autumn, which became the label’s best-selling record. That and its follow-up — 1982’s Winter Into Spring — went platinum. 1982’s Christmas album December later went triple platinum.
Later, Winston released albums covering the work of Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi, with whom he held a deep fascination. In 1996, Winston released Linus And Lucy: The Music Of Vince Guaraldi. Its follow-up, Love Will Come: The Music Of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2, came out in February 2010. A third volume, entitled Count The Ways: The Music Of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 3, was released just two years ago.
Over the course of his career, Winston also released piano albums dedicated to the Doors (2002’s Night Divides The Day – The Music Of The Doors) and benefit albums: 2001’s Remembrance – A Memorial Benefit, 2006’s Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions: A Hurricane Relief Benefit, and 2012’s Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2: A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit.
As a producer, Winston worked with numerous Hawaiian slack-key guitarists such as Keola Beamer, Sonny Chillingworth, Leonard Kwan, Dennis Kamakahi, Ray Kane, Cyril Pahinui, Bla Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, Ledward Kaapana, Georg Kuo, Ozzie Kotani, George Kahumoku, Jr., Moses Kahumoku, Cindy Combs, and others, releasing their work via his label Dancing Cat Records.
Though he suffered from numerous illnesses stemming from his cancer battle, Winston recorded and released music, some of which he’d played in a medical center auditorium. In 2019, Winston released his 15th solo piano album, Restless Wind, which featured interpretations of songs by Sam Cooke, the Doors, Stephen Stills, George and Ira Gershwin, Country Joe McDonald, and more.