Chicago Legend Ramsey Lewis Passes Away At 87
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Ramsey Lewis, legendary jazz pianist and composer, at the age of 87. Ramsey was a Chicago icon and leaves behind a great musical legacy. Let’s take a look back at his life and work.
Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr. was born on May 27, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois. He was the second child of Ruth Jackson and Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis Sr., who worked as a government clerk. His family lived and worked in the shadow of Cabrini-Green, one of America’s most notorious public housing developments. Despite growing up in poverty, Lewis found solace in music. He started taking piano lessons at the age of 4 and soon began performing in church.
After graduating from high school, Lewis attended Wilson Junior College (now Wilson Community College) before transferring to the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. While studying at the conservatory, he began playing clubs around the city with his trio. In 1956, the trio recorded their first album, Ramsey Lewis and His Gentlemen of Swing. The album was a hit, and the single “The In Crowd” reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Lewis continued to record and perform throughout his career, releasing more than 80 albums. He won three Grammy Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement, and was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2018, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Donald Trump.
The Life and Music of Ramsey Lewis
“Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fueled by the love and dedication of his fans across the globe,” his wife Janet Lewis said in a statement. “He loved touring and meeting music lovers from so many cultures and walks of life. It was our family’s great pleasure to share Ramsey in this special way with all those who admired his God-given talents. We are forever grateful for your support.”
Ramsey Lewis was born and raised in Chicago, where his family lived and worked in the shadow of Cabrini-Green. Growing up in poverty, Mr. Lewis found solace and inspiration in music, particularly jazz piano. He began taking piano lessons at the age of 4 and made his public debut as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 15. After graduating from high school, he studied music at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, before transferring to Roosevelt University in Chicago. It was there that he formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio with bassist Eldee Young and drummer Isaac “Red” Holt
The trio found success almost immediately, releasing their first album, “Ramsey Lewis and His Gentlemen of Swing,” in 1956. They followed that up with a string of well-received albums throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, including “The Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova” (1962) and “Hang On Sloopy” (1965). The latter featured their cover of the Paul Revere & The Raiders hit single, which reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and earned them a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance.
In 1966, Mr. Lewis left Atlantic Records to sign with Cadet Records, a label operated by Chess Records. It was there that he enjoyed some of his greatest commercial success with albums like “Up Pops Ramsey” (1967), which featured his cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Mother Nature’s Son” (1968), which topped Billboard’s Jazz Album chart. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Lewis continued to release well-received albums while also crossing over into television with regular appearances on shows like “Soul Train” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
In later years, Mr. Lewis remained active as both a performer and a goodwill ambassador for jazz music, receiving numerous honors and accolades along the way. In 2005, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W Bush; in 2006, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; and in 2007, he was inducted into the Indiana University School of Music Jazz Hall of Fame. Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife Janet Lewis and his children Natasha Adeleye Lewis-Smith, April Lavette Lewis-Grayson, ACL III (Azariah Caleb Levi), Raheem DeVaughn Lewis and Rosa Ashanta’I Yolanda Lewis-Elzie.’
Ramsey Lewis was one of the most successful jazz musicians of his generation thanks to hits like “The In Crowd” and “Hang On Sloopy.” He was born and raised in Chicago where he found inspiration in jazz piano at an early age. He went on to have a long and successful career as both a performer and a goodwill ambassador for jazz music before passing away at 87 years old on Monday morning. He will be remembered as one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.’
iJam Power Radio would like to send our very deepest condolences to his family and fans during this difficult time