CHICAGO (TBEN) — Chicago composer and jazz legend Ramsey Lewis, known for his hit song “The In Crowd,” passed away Monday at the age of 87.
According to a Facebook post, Lewis died at his home in Chicago. Lewis was a three-time Grammy winner and NEA Jazz Master. His 1965 hit “The In Crowd” was an international pop crossover hit.
Lewis was born in Chicago on May 27, 1935 and grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project. He started piano lessons at a young age and played in church, where his father was a choir director. His father, Lewis Sr., was a big jazz fan, always playing Duke Ellington and Art Tatum at home and taking Ramsey to jazz shows.
Lewis attended Wells High School and there saxophonist Wallace Burton asked him to join his band, the Clefs, a band that played jazz and R&B. The Korean War draft claimed several band members, but three who were not called up: Lewis, bassist Eldee Young, and drummer Redd Holt, formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio.
Their first album “Ramsey Lewis and His Gentlemen of Jazz” was released on the Chess label in 1956 and shortly after Lewis performed with his trio at Birdland in New York. That three-week stint led to appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival and the Village Vanguard.
The trio also recorded with jazz icons Max Roach, Clark Terry and Sonny Stitt.
Lewis broke through in 1965 with the crossover hit ‘The In Crowd’. The Grammy-winning song (written by Dobie Gray) was followed by “Hang on Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water”.
The 1974 album “Sun Goddess” and the pianist’s title track were produced by Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire and featured members of EWF with members of Earth, Wind & Fire. It illustrated Lewis’s appeal to fusion and R&B.
According to Lewis’s family, his many honors have included five honorary degrees and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist. The single “The In Crowd” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and personal artifacts are in the Smithsonian Institution. Lewis received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Award in 2007, joining such piano legends as Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Billy Taylor and Cecil Taylor.
In June, Ravinia hosted “Legends of Jazz: Honoring Ramsey Lewis” featuring a number of jazz notables, including Kurt Elling, Marquis Hill, and Lizz Wright.
The jazz composer also presented the weekly program “Legends of Jazz” on WDCB-FM that could be heard on Sunday afternoons. Lewis has spent the past year working on his memoir “Gentleman of Jazz” with co-writer Aaron Cohen. The book is expected to be published in 2023.
He is survived by his wife Janet Lewis; daughters Denise Jeffries and Dawn Allain (Michael); sons Kendall Kelly Lewis, Frayne Lewis (Julletta) and Bobby Lewis (Crystal); grandchildren Apryl Daniels (Dennis), Regan Lewis, Kris Jeffries (Nailah), Joshua Allain, Junell Lewis, Malachi Lewis, Aja Alain, Jordan Lewis, Ramsey Lewis IV, Dorien Olson-Lewis, Miyoshie Lewis, Meshach Lewis, Taylor Lewis, Kevai Lewis, Frayne Lewis Jr., Niya Lewis and Asia Lewis; great-grandchildren Jalen Simmons, Dennis Daniels III, Omari Jackson; nieces Paula Jackson and Kimberly Johnson; and cousin James Johnson. He was predeceased by his sons Ramsey Lewis III and Kevyn Lewis.
On Lewis’s Facebook page, his wife posted this quote:
Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fueled by the love and dedication of his fans around the world. He loved touring and meeting music lovers from so many cultures and walks of life. It was a great pleasure for our family to share Ramsey in this special way with all who admired his God-given talents. We are eternally grateful for your support.
In lieu of flowers, make a donation to The Jazz Foundation of America at www.jazzfoundation.org