Washington, who was born in Buffalo, New York, began playing sax at an age 10. He was given a sax by his father who also played. As a teenager, he joined a band called The Four Clefs, gaining experience which would help him become a future band leader. Washington moved to Philadelphia in the mid-sixties and worked in clubs and as a sideman in the studio.
He was mentored by organists Charles Earland and Johnny Hammond Smith. Washington's debut release "Inner City Blues" in 1971 was a big seller and helped catapult his career. Washington's musical career spanned three decades. He had recorded over 35 albums as a leader and appeared on over 100 others. Two of his most successful albums were "Mister Magic" and "Winelight", the latter winning two Grammy Awards. One of the most commercially successful saxophonists around, Washington was right at home in several musical genres, from jazz, funk, R&B, and soul. He was equally adept as a straight-ahead saxophonist.
Grover Washington, Jr. was a regular performer at the annual Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz galas in Washington, D.C. His last performance there was October 1999 when he shared the stage with, among others, Patrice Rushen, Dianne Reeves, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Grover Washington, Jr. was very personable and one of the true gentlemen in the business. He was 56 years old. He will be deeply missed by musicians and fans the world over.