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Mon, 05.27.1935

Ramsey Lewis, Pianist and Composer born

Ramey Lewis

*Ramsey Lewis was born on this date in 1935. He was a Black jazz composer, pianist, and radio personality.

Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Ramsey Lewis Sr. and Pauline Lewis. He began taking piano lessons at the age of four. As a young man, Lewis played with several local ensembles. Lewis would eventually join a jazz group called the clefs. He later formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio with drummer Isaac "Red" Holt and bassist Eldee Young. In 1956 the trio issued their debut album, Ramsey Lewis and his Gentlemen of Swing.

Following their 1965 hit "The In Crowd," they concentrated more on pop material. Young and Holt left in 1966 to form Young-Holt Unlimited and were replaced by Cleveland Eaton and Maurice White. White left to form Earth, Wind & Fire and was replaced by Morris Jennings in 1970. Later, Frankie Donaldson and Bill Dickens replaced Jennings and Eaton; Felton Crews also appeared on many 1980s releases. By 1966, Lewis was one of the nation's most successful jazz pianists, topping the charts with "The In Crowd," "Hang On Sloopy," and "Wade in the Water."  All three singles sold over one million copies and were awarded gold discs. Many of his recordings attracted a large non-jazz audience.

In the 1970s, Lewis often played electric piano, although later in the decade, he was sticking to acoustic and using an additional keyboardist in his groups. In 1994, Lewis appeared on the Red-Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, alongside prominent jazz artists Herbie Hancock and Roy Ayers. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds to support the AIDS epidemic concerning the African American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by TIME magazine.

In addition to recording and performing, Lewis hosted the weekly syndicated radio program Legends of Jazz, created in 1990. He also hosted the Ramsey Lewis Morning Show on Chicago's "smooth jazz" radio station WNUA (95.5 FM). In December 2006, this morning show became part of Broadcast Architecture's Smooth Jazz Network, simulcasting on other smooth jazz stations across the country until its cancellation in May 2009, when WNUA switched to a Spanish format. In 2006, a well-received 13-episode Legends of Jazz television series hosted by Lewis was broadcast on public TV nationwide and featured live performances by various jazz artists, including Chick Corea.

Lewis was artistic director of Jazz at Ravinia (an annual feature at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois) and helped organize Ravinia's Jazz Mentor Program. He also served on the board of trustees for the Merit School of Music, a Chicago inner-city music program, and The Chicago High School for the Arts, the public arts high school in Chicago established in 2009. Early in 2005, the Ramsey Lewis Foundation was created to help connect at-risk children to the world of music. As an offshoot of that foundation, Lewis planned to form a Youth Choir and Youth Orchestra.

In January 2007, the Dave Brubeck Institute invited Lewis to join its Honorary Board of Friends at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Lewis was an Honorary Board member of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Lewis was a member of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. In May 2008, Lewis received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University Chicago upon delivering the keynote address at the undergraduate commencement ceremony. He recorded over 80 albums and received five gold records and three Grammy Awards in his career. Ramsey Lewis died on September 12, 2022, at his home in Chicago. He was 87 years old.

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