By Mary Gartner, Staff Writer
Springfield, MO— Arthur Duncan, a talented jazz and gospel musician hailing from Springfield, has left an indelible mark on the local music scene. From his humble beginnings, learning piano from his mother at the age of five to becoming a renowned performer and educator, Duncan’s journey is one of dedication, passion, and a commitment to community.
He, along with his twin sister, Arthurine, was taught to play the piano by their mother. “My mom taught me as much as she could,” says Duncan. Dedication and regular practice with his mother led the way through his elementary and secondary school years. Duncan continued his learning by listening, playing, and singing gospel music.
Born and raised on the north side of Springfield, Duncan’s musical journey began under the loving guidance of his parents, Arthur Sr. and Florence Duncan. His mother played the piano and organ for the choir at the Benton Avenue AME Church, where she encouraged her young son to join the choir and learn more about music and singing. It was here that Duncan’s love for gospel music flourished, and he soon developed a well-rounded repertoire of both old and new gospel songs, becoming a versatile musician.
While Duncan’s passion for gospel remained strong, it was during his junior high school years that he was introduced to jazz, and his musical abilities truly began to shine. Playing in jazz combos throughout his high school years, Duncan’s talent caught the attention of music enthusiasts, and he received the highest accolades for his performances.
Upon graduating from high school, Duncan faced the choice of attending either Southwest Missouri State University or Drury College, both offering him full scholarships. He ultimately chose Drury, where he delved deeper into jazz and classical music under the tutelage of Dr. Don Verne Joseph (Doc Joseph). It was Doc Joseph who urged Duncan to attend the prestigious Stan Kenton band camp at Townsend State College in Baltimore, where he had the opportunity to practice with some of the most talented musicians from all over the United States. The experience at the camp not only expanded his musical horizons but also motivated him to strive for excellence in his craft.
After graduating from Drury College, Duncan decided to play professionally rather than teaching. He played with a number of well-known bands such as The Fabulous Elites, The KC Express and the ABS Band. As his career progressed he was offered a position with Tony Orlando as musical director, but declined a life on the road. “I had many opportunities, but my path was not to be on the road…I feel God wanted that for me. I was here to take care of my father and my sister.” He continued on with his career as a jazz musician. He has played in many acts, opened up for some great performers as well as being a headliner himself. He doesn’t feel he missed anything.
Between his high school and college years, Duncan formed his own band, Arthur Duncan and the Springfield Connection, which allowed him to further explore his musical prowess. Over the years, he played with several musicians and bands, always striving to keep the jazz legacy alive in Springfield alongside other influential local jazz musicians.
Throughout his career, Duncan remained actively involved with the community, participating in numerous civic and NAACP events. He emphasized the importance of supporting local businesses and took on various entrepreneurial ventures, including owning a restaurant, a club, and a limo service.
Despite his success as a jazz musician, Duncan never forgot his roots in gospel music. He continued to play professionally with his band, Saved, and served as the minister of music at churches in the Springfield area for many years. This dual passion for jazz and gospel showcased his versatility and deep connection to both genres.
Arthur is married to Cynthia Duncan, who currently serves as pastor for a mixed congregation at the New Mind, New Faith Church in Springfield.
Today, Arthur Duncan continues to inspire and share his musical knowledge with aspiring musicians. His current band, The Arthur Duncan Trio, features his longtime musical comrades, Richard Allen and Ernie Bedell. The trio performs regularly around Springfield, enchanting audiences with their soulful melodies and impeccable skills.
When asked about his current band, Duncan fondly recalls how his band members met while attending Central High School – “…there was an upright piano in the school cafeteria and I’d go play on it right before school. Next thing you know, everybody’s playing on it…we got a big crowd. He remembers singers, Karen Jackson, SueAnn King and Susan Marshall joining in. “These were the Supremes of Springfield, he muses, chuckling. “At one time they sang with Ernie Bedell and the ABS band…and that’s how we met — in high school. Then everybody took a different direction.”
Duncan imparts his wisdom to students at the Arthur Duncan School of Music, offering music lessons for all levels of learning, from beginners to professionals. Aspiring musicians can benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience that he has accumulated over the years.
While Duncan performs regularly at the Wherehouse Bar at 2463 W. Sunshine and other venues around town, the Jazz trio will be performing on August 2, at the Ozarks Empire Fair. Duncan’s dedication to music and commitment to his community continues to serve as an inspiration to both young and seasoned musicians in Springfield and beyond. To contact Arthur Duncan’s School of Music, or for booking information, interested individuals can call 417-894-8422.