Ramsey Lewis, a renowned jazz pianist who became one of the nation’s most well-known jazz artists throughout a career spanning more than 60 years and began with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, has passed away. He was 87.
For 1960s successes like “The In Crowd,” “Hang on Sloopy,” and “Wade in the Water,” Lewis is admired in the jazz community. He received seven gold records, as well as three Grammys. In 1956, “Ramsey Lewis and the Gentlemen of Swing”—the group’s debut album—was made available.
According to his son Bobby Lewis, Lewis passed away on Monday at his home in Chicago while he was sleeping.
“When they first met dad, most people said he was a class act, and he stayed that way right up until the end,” Bobby Lewis said to The Associated Press on Monday night.
In an interview with the AP in 2011, Ramsey Lewis discussed his approach to writing and playing music.
Lewis observed, sitting at the dining room table in his home in downtown Chicago, “Life is a solo, and it continues. “I just know that it will flow when I place my hands on the keyboard.”
Lewis began learning the piano at the age of 4. His early years were spent in Chicago, where he used his background in gospel and classical music to forge his own jazz style in the several local clubs that employed burgeoning jazz artists.
When Lewis was designated the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2007, he commented, “It offered us a lot of opportunities to explore our ideas and understand what it takes to play in front of an audience.” Billy Taylor, a pianist, and fellow Jazz Master presented him with the honor.
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Throughout his career, Lewis shared the stage alongside musicians like Pat Metheney, Tony Bennett, Al Jarreau, and Aretha Franklin. Lewis released more than 80 recordings, including 30 with the Chicago-based Chess Records. He went on a globe tour and gave a performance at the state banquet for President Fernando Henrique of Brazil that was hosted by then-President Bill Clinton in 1995.
Later in his career, the Chicago native started writing substantial musical compositions. His debut composition was an eight-movement work for the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Proclamation of Hope: A Symphonic Poem by Ramsey Lewis, an homage to President Abraham Lincoln, was also finished by him.
The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show on WNUA-FM and the syndicated “Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis” were two of the radio shows Lewis helmed in the 1990s and 2000. In 2007, Lewis hosted “Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis,” a weekly program that aired on public television stations all over the country.
According to the show’s makers, jazz greats and up-and-comers were showcased for the first time on a weekly basis on network television in 40 years.
Lewis has also volunteered for organizations that help young people learn to play the piano.
Since 2011, Lewis has been managed by Steele, whose Tampa, Florida-based Steele Management Steele recalled that throughout the final year of his life, the man worked on his memoirs. It will be released next year, it’s completed.
Lewis is also survived by his wife Janet, daughters Denise Jeffries and Dawn Allain, two other sons, Kendall Kelly Lewis and Frayne Lewis, as well as a large number of grandkids and great-grandchildren.