by Ann Babe
Photos courtesy of Nancy Peske
George Darrow died at age 70 on May 30, 2023, in Milwaukee. A New Yorker by birth, and a Milwaukeean by choice, George was a proud Riverwest resident whose community shaped him as much as he shaped it, through his many creative pursuits, his care for people, his engagement, his volunteerism, and his search for common ground.
A vibrant part of the Riverwest arts scene, George was a talented artist, musician, and poet. He was a husband and father, too, and a brother, uncle, friend, and collaborator. He was a philosopher, teacher, and mentor, and also an all-around kid at heart. Throughout Riverwest, George could be found telling jokes, dispatching wisdom, distributing toys at the neighborhood block parties, and offering people the encouragement he hoped would help ignite their own artist within.
George believed every day was a good day, and lived his life in accordance with seeking out the good, the humane, the just, and sparking others to do the same. For him, each day was an opportunity to commune and be in camaraderie with people. A few years ago, as a friend recalls, George gave her a bundle of bumper stickers he had made. One sticker read, “It’s a gift, that’s why they call it the present” — a true slogan of his being, as he loved nothing more than being in the moment, here and now, with someone else.
Born on September 18, 1952, in Greenwich Village, New York, to Chick and Margarita Darrow, George was the third of six children — the first two, Guy and Kathy, from his father’s previous relationship, and the last four, of whom he was the oldest, made up of Gregory, Gary, and Virginia. Chick was a vaudevillian, Margarita a jazz singer, and the Darrow children were raised surrounded by music, dancing, comedy, and an eclectic group of performing artists who often came around to visit. “There was never a dull moment growing up,” remembers Ginny, the youngest. Sometimes, the amusement was so great that her brothers would sell tickets to their friends for admission to the fun. “We would have parties,” she says,” and George would usually get up and perform first.”
Enamored with music from an early age, it wasn’t long before George took to banging on the family furniture, which prompted his parents to buy him a drum kit. That marked the beginning of a lifelong adventure in music, taking him from garages in Queens to popular clubs like CBGBs and Fillmore East in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. After moving to Milwaukee, he performed at Summerfest, the Locust Street Festival, and beyond. In these spaces, he drummed and played other percussion instruments, sang, and strummed the guitar. George was a lyricist and composer. He was entirely self taught; he never completed college, read widely, and experimented broadly.
His father’s Upper East Side shop, the renowned Darrow’s Fun Antiques that sold and rented collectible toys, is where George spent much of his working life, taking over the helm after Chick passed in 1984 and running it until its closure in 2002. The world of memorabilia fascinated George, and would reappear later in his life, in Milwaukee, when he reopened the once, and now again, shuttered Jackpot Gallery on Center Street. After acquiring the gallery from its original co-founders, George and his business partner Jason Royal Hart reimagined Jackpot as a hybrid space for art exhibitions, collectibles, and custom-made vintage computer and video games. “It’s just fun. We’re just gonna try it and see what happens,” George was quoted as saying to OnMilwaukee in 2015.
What was it, though, that led George to Milwaukee from New York? It was love, of course. In February 1993, George met Nancy Peske, a Milwaukeean living in New York, when she and her mother, who was visiting from out of town, stopped into Darrow’s Fun Antiques on their way to the subway. Needing a reprieve from the bitter cold, Nancy had told her mom, “Let’s just duck in this crazy store and warm up.” When they got inside, George was there. He was unlike anyone Nancy had ever met: “I have to have that person in my life,” she remembers thinking at the time. “He was so full of life and philosophy and wisdom and joy, and I just thought, I have to know him.”
George and Nancy got married in 1996, and had their son Dante a few years later. In 2005, they relocated to Nancy’s hometown. As a father, George was focused on ensuring his son, who was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, could access the right input and frequency of sensory diet activities. Around Shorewood, he became known as the neighborhood stickball teacher and drumming mentor. When the family moved across the Milwaukee River, to Riverwest, George brought with him his youthful zeal, becoming a staple of this community over the years as well.
Committed to public communication and community voices, George helped found Riverwest Radio, the local Low Power FM station that began broadcasting from Center Street in 2012. George’s program “Musicology” was a weekly installment of fresh music, paired with the “ology” of philosophical discussion, political activism, book and poetry readings, and, of course, plenty of jokes. The episodes are archived and available at https://www.riverwestradio.com/show/musicology/.
At the root of George’s “ology” was the study of truth, of beauty, and of truth as beauty. In following his curious and critical thinking, he flitted from writing poetry to painting intense, energetic works; from singing and songwriting to instrumentation, naturalism, research, and all the liminal spaces in between. Part of George’s quest for the truth was his deep inquiry into topics like the dark government and the assassination of John F. Kennedy — a topic he discussed in great detail on Musicology’s annual JFK tributes with his collaborator and comrade, the poet Jeanie Dean (the same friend he’d given the gift-of-the-present bumper sticker). “You don’t find that kind of camaraderie very often in life,” she says. “It was very wonderful having that sense that someone’s got my back on this.”
George did not shy away from asking important, often tough, questions, and he believed love is always the answer. He trusted in the power of creative expression. He cherished Mother Earth — wearing a necklace of the globe and t-shirts printed with the planet — and he strived to be her steward. He lived his life the way he wanted, and that was to live it fully, to hold onto his child within, to never be afraid to be himself, and to always advocate for a better world.
“I’m trying to raise the consciousness of the planet without being a know-it-all,” George said all those years ago to OnMilwaukee. “I hope to add a little spice and a little light and a little enlightenment and fun to the world and to Milwaukee.”
If readers would like to honor George’s memory, they can make a donation of money or food to Kinship Community Food Center in Riverwest. To receive notifications of his forthcoming memorial service, sign up at