Three-time Grammy winner and NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis died Monday in his sleep at his Chicago home. He was 87.
Lewis began piano lessons at age four in the Cabrini Green housing projects, and credited his teacher with teaching him to “listen with your inner ear.” He also learned to play with bassist Eldee Young and drummer Redd Holt to form the Ramsey Lewis Trio.
He was 87 years old
A three-time Grammy winner and NEA Jazz Master, Lewis was propelled to fame with his trio’s 1965 hit “The ’In’ Crowd.” He died Monday at his home in Chicago.
Lewis, who was born on May 27, 1935, in the Cabrini Green housing project, began taking piano lessons at age four and played at his church, where his father was the choir director. His parents were fans of Duke Ellington and Art Tatum and took him to jazz concerts in the hope that he would embrace the genre.
He honed his skills at the Chicago Music College Preparatory School and toured with bands in the ’50s. In 1956, he formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio with bassist Eldee Young and drummer Redd Holt. Over the next six decades, he recorded 80 albums and sustained connections between jazz and popular music. He also hosted the radio program “Ramsey Lewis and Legends of Jazz.” He is survived by his wife Janet, daughters Denise Jeffries and Dawn Allain, and sons Kendall, Frayne, and Bobby Lewis.
He died peacefully
A statement on Lewis’s Facebook page says he died peacefully at home in Chicago. The pianist and composer was 87 years old. Lewis, who scored on the pop charts in 1965 with the song “The In Crowd,” was a three-time Grammy winner and a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. He has recorded more than 80 albums in his career.
He grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project and began piano lessons at age four. He was a regular at clubs across Chicago and played alongside the likes of Mister Kelly. His style was characterized by soulful elegance and sustained connections between jazz and popular music.
He was a passionate advocate for youth and helped found Ravinia’s Jazz Mentor Program. He toured and performed regularly until his death. He also wrote several musicals and hosted a monthly livestream series during the Covid-19 pandemic. He is survived by his wife, daughters Denise Jeffries and Dawn Allain, sons Kendall Lewis, Frayne Lewis, and Bobby Lewis, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He was a jazz pianist
One of the most celebrated jazz pianists of his generation, Ramsey Lewis, died in his sleep Monday at his Chicago home. He was 87. Lewis was known for his work with artists like Dobie Gray, and his own critically acclaimed albums, including the 1965 live album The In Crowd. He was a three-time Grammy winner and an NEA Jazz Master.
He was born in the Cabrini Green housing project and took piano lessons at age four. His father, a jazz fan who played Duke Ellington and Art Tatum at home and took him to jazz concerts, encouraged his son to pursue music.
During his long career, Lewis released more than 80 albums and performed with many iconic singers. He also hosted a 13-episode syndicated radio show and a well-received 13-episode public television series. He also worked with a number of charities that worked to bring music like jazz to young people. In addition, he founded the Ravinia Jazz Mentor Program and handled the creative direction of the Steans Music Institute at Symphony Center in Chicago.
He was a composer
Ramsey Lewis began piano lessons at the age of four and credited his teacher Dorothy Mendelsohn with teaching him how to “listen with his inner ear.” She also encouraged him to make the music sing. He joined a band called the Clefs while at Wells High School, and when saxophonist Wallace Burton got drafted into the military for the Korean War, bassist Eldee Young and drummer Redd Holt formed the classic Ramsey Lewis Trio with him.
Lewis was a Grammy winner for his work with the trio, and their 1965 album “The In Crowd” crossed over into pop and R&B charts. He later recorded more contemporary jazz with a range of artists, including Grover Washington Jr., and he also wrote classical pieces for string ensembles and orchestras.
He was also active in music education. He founded the Ramsey Lewis Foundation, established Ravinia’s Jazz Mentor Program, and served on the boards of trustees for the Merit School of Music and The Chicago High School for the Arts. He was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award in 2007, and he died at home in Chicago. He is survived by his wife Janet Lewis, daughters Denise Jeffries and Dawn Allain, sons Kendall Kelly Lewis and Frayne Lewis, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.