Ramsey Lewis

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Ramsey Lewis
Lewis in 2009
Lewis in 2009
Background information
Birth nameRamsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr.
Born(1935-05-27)May 27, 1935
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedSeptember 12, 2022(2022-09-12) (aged 87)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
  • Composer
  • pianist
  • radio personality
  • Piano
Years active1955–2022

Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr. (May 27, 1935 – September 12, 2022) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and radio personality.[1] Lewis recorded over 80 albums and received five gold records and three Grammy Awards in his career. His album The In Crowd earned Lewis critical praise and the 1965 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance. His best known singles include "The 'In' Crowd", "Wade in the Water", and "Sun Goddess". Until 2009, he was the host of the Ramsey Lewis Morning Show on the Chicago radio station WNUA.

Lewis was also active in musical education in Chicago. He founded the Ramsey Lewis Foundation, established the Ravinia's Jazz Mentor Program, and served on the board of trustees for the Merit School of Music and The Chicago High School for the Arts.

Life and career[edit]

Lewis performing at JazzFe 2006

Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr. was born on May 27, 1935, in Chicago[2][1] to Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis and Pauline Lewis. He grew up in the Cabrini–Green Homes Housing Projects, an area native to soul singers Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler. Both of his parents came from the Deep South. His father was a church choir director who encouraged him to study music. Thus, Lewis began taking piano lessons at the age of four with Ernestine Bruce, the church pianist and organist. When he was 11, Bruce recommended he study with Dorothy Mendelssohn at the Chicago Musical College. Mendelssohn taught him classical technique with the philosophy that "it freed the performer from the thinking about the notes so he could concentrate on the music." Lewis realized what she meant when he saw Wynton Kelly with the Miles Davis group, Kelly asked him to play something, and Kelly complimented him by saying "Boy, I wish I had technique."[3][4]

As a young man, Lewis played with a number of local ensembles, such as Edward Virgil Abner's Knights of Music.[5] Lewis would eventually join a jazz group called the clefs. He later formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio with drummer Isaac "Redd" Holt and bassist Eldee Young.[1] They eventually signed to Chess Records.[6]

In 1956, the trio released their debut album, Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Swing.[7]

Following their 1965 hit, "The 'In' Crowd" (the single reached No. 5 on the pop charts, and the album No. 2), 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.[1] 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 Lewis' 1981 album Three Piece Suite.[8]

By 1966, Lewis was one of the nation's most successful jazz pianists, having had hits with "The In Crowd", "Hang On Sloopy",[9] and "Wade in the Water." All three singles each sold over one million copies and were awarded gold discs.[10] In the 1970s, Lewis often played electric piano, although by later in the decade he was sticking to acoustic piano and using an additional keyboardist in his groups.[11]

In addition to recording and performing, Lewis hosted the weekly syndicated radio program Legends of Jazz, created in 1990, syndicated by United Stations Radio Networks.[12] He also hosted the Ramsey Lewis Morning Show on Chicago "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 over to a Spanish format.[13]

Ramsey founded the Ramsey Lewis Foundation, which promoted musical instrument education to children, in 2005.[14]

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 a variety of jazz artists including Larry Gray, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Joey Defrancesco, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Kurt Elling, Benny Golson, Pat Metheny, and Tony Bennett.[15]

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.[16] Ramsey also served on the board of trustees for the Merit School of Music and The Chicago High School for the Arts.[17]

Distinctions, honors, awards[edit]

Lewis was an honorary member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.[18] In May 2008, Lewis received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University Chicago upon delivering the keynote address at the undergraduate commencement ceremony.[19]

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.[20] Lewis was an Honorary Board member of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.[19]

Personal life[edit]

From 1954 to 1988, Lewis was married to Geraldine Taylor (1935–2005), with whom he had seven children. In 1990, he married Jan Tamillow. His sisters, Gloria Johnson (1941–2021) and Lucille Jackson (1932–2012), served as music minister and co-pastor respectively, at the James Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Maywood, Illinois. On September 12, 2022, Lewis passed away in his sleep at his home in Chicago at age 87.[21][22][2][23][24]



Year Title Peak chart positions Label
US Jazz
1956 Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Swing Argo
1958 Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Jazz, Volume 2
1958 Lem Winchester and the Ramsey Lewis Trio
1959 Down to Earth (The Ramsey Lewis Trio Plays Music from the Soil) EmArcy
An Hour with the Ramsey Lewis Trio Argo
1960 Early in the Morning (Lorez Alexandria with the Ramsey Lewis Trio)
Stretching Out
The Ramsey Lewis Trio in Chicago
1961 More Music from the Soil
Never on Sunday
Sound of Christmas 129
1962 The Sound of Spring
Country Meets the Blues
Bossa Nova
1963 Pot Luck
Barefoot Sunday Blues
1964 Bach to the Blues 125
The Ramsey Lewis Trio at the Bohemian Caverns 103
More Sounds of Christmas 8
1965 You Better Believe Me (with Jean DuShon)
The In Crowd 2 1
Hang On Ramsey! 15 4 20 Cadet
Choice! The Best of the Ramsey Lewis Trio (compilation) 54 9
1966 Wade in the Water 16 2
The Movie Album 124 5
Goin' Latin 95 16 2
1967 Dancing in the Street 59 16 3
Up Pops Ramsey Lewis 52 25 7
1968 Maiden Voyage 55 14 3
Mother Nature's Son 156 10 3
Ramsey Lewis Live in Tokyo
1969 Encore! Ramsey Lewis in Tokyo (Vol. 2) Chess/Victor (Japan)
Another Voyage 139 34 5 Cadet
The Piano Player 157 9
1970 Them Changes 177 34 4
1971 Back to the Roots 163 25 3
1972 The Groover
The Best of Ramsey Lewis (compilation) 172 5
Upendo Ni Pamoja 79 9 1 Columbia
1973 Funky Serenity 117 4
Ramsey Lewis' Newly Recorded All-Time Non-Stop Golden Hits 198 50 32
1974 Solar Wind 29
Sun Goddess 12 1 1
Solid Ivory Cadet
1975 Don't It Feel Good 46 5 3 Columbia
1976 Salongo 77 17 7
1977 Love Notes 79 31 7
Tequila Mockingbird 111 3
1978 Legacy 149 10
1979 Ramsey 21
1980 Routes 173 51 7
1981 Blues for the Night Owl
Three Piece Suite 152 52 10
1982 Ramsey Lewis Live at the Savoy 50 12
Chance Encounter 16
1983 Les Fleurs 10
1984 The Two of Us (with Nancy Wilson) 146 42 5
1985 Fantasy
1987 Keys to the City 22
1988 Classic Encounter
1989 We Meet Again (with Billy Taylor)
Urban Renewal
1992 Ivory Pyramid 7 GRP
1993 Sky Islands 4
1995 Urban Knights I
1996 Between the Keys 17
1997 Urban Knights II
1998 Dance of the Soul 11
1999 Appassionata 5 Narada
2000 Urban Knights III
2001 Urban Knights IV
2002 Meant to Be (with Nancy Wilson) 3
2003 Urban Knights V
Simple Pleasures (with Nancy Wilson) 9
2004 Time Flies 10
2005 Urban Knights VI
With One Voice 12
2009 Songs from the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey Concord
2011 Taking Another Look 13 Hidden Beach
2019 Urban Knights VII Ropeadope
2021 Manha de Carnaval Above Ground
2022 The Beatles Songbook Steele
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.


Year Title Peak chart positions Certifications
US Pop
US Dance
1964 "Something You Got" (as the Ramsey Lewis Trio) 63
1965 "The 'In' Crowd" (as the Ramsey Lewis Trio) 5 2
"Jingle Bells" (as the Ramsey Lewis Trio) 21
"Hang On Sloopy" (as the Ramsey Lewis Trio) 11 6
1966 "Winter Wonderland" 23
"Wade in the Water" 19 3 31
"Up Tight" 49 30
"Hi-Heel Sneakers" 70
"A Hard Day's Night" 29
1967 "Soul Man" 49
"One, Two, Three" 67
"Day Tripper" 74
"Dancing in the Street" 84
1968 "Since You've Been Gone" 98
1969 "Julia" 76 37
1972 "Slipping into Darkness" 44
1973 "Kufanya Mapenzi (Making Love)" 93
1975 "Sun Goddess" (with Earth, Wind & Fire) 44 20 5
"Hot Dawgit" (with Earth, Wind & Fire) 50 61
1976 "What's the Name of This Funk (Spider Man)" 69 50 6
"Don't It Feel Good" 99
"Brazilica" 88
1977 "Spring High" 85
1981 "So Much More" 93
1982 "You Never Know" 64
1985 "This Ain't No Fantasy" 88 48
1987 "7–11" 67
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.

As sideman[edit]

With Max Roach

With Jimmy Woode

With Young/Holt

  • Feature Spot (Cadet, 1967)[30]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Lewis performing live in the KPLU studio in October 2009

Grammy history[edit]

Ramsey Lewis Grammy Awards History
Year Category Title Genre Label Result Source
1965 Best Jazz Performance – Small Group or
Soloist with Small Group
"The In Crowd" Jazz Argo/Chess Won [31]
1965 Record of the Year "The In Crowd (Single)" Argo/Chess Nominated
1966 Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance –
Vocal or Instrumental
"Hold It Right There" R&B Chess Won
1973 Best Rhythm & Blues Instrumental Performance "Hang On Sloopy" R&B MCA Won


Year Title Certification Label Source
1965 The In Crowd US RIAA: Gold Argo [10]
1966 Hang On Ramsey! US RIAA: Gold Cadet
1966 Wade in the Water US RIAA: Gold Cadet
1968 Sound of Christmas US RIAA: Gold Argo
1976 Sun Goddess US RIAA: Gold Columbia



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  2. ^ a b Seymour, Gene (September 12, 2022). "Ramsey Lewis, the pop chart's favorite jazz pianist, dies at 87". NPR. Retrieved September 13, 2022.
  3. ^ Turning the Corner from Classics to Jazz: An Interview with Ramsey Lewis by Elyse Mach, The Instrumentalist, volume 77, number 2, October/November 2022, article originally printed in Clavier magazine in 1998.
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  15. ^ "On Air – Smooth Jazz WNUA 95.5 – Chicago". Archived from the original on September 18, 2008.
  16. ^ "Ravinia Festival". Archived from the original on August 17, 2007.
  17. ^ Tamarkin, Jeff. "Ramsey Lewis to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award". JazzTimes. Retrieved September 13, 2022.
  18. ^ "Honorary Members". Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. Retrieved September 13, 2022.
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  27. ^ "Ramsey Lewis Trio – The In Crowd". bpi.co.uk. Retrieved September 13, 2022.
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  36. ^ "Legendary Landmarks Gala". Landmarks.org. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2011.

External links[edit]