Image source: Pitchfork
Chicago icon and jazz legend Ramsey Lewis, best known for the hit song “The In Crowd,” died Monday at the age of 87.
The news emerged after Janet Lewis, his wife, made the announcement via Facebook.
“Jazz pianist, three-Grammy winner, and NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis, who successfully crossed over from the Jazz charts to the pop charts,” the Facebook post read.
The four-time Grammy-nominated and three-time Grammy Award-winning musician is best known for the 1965 song “The In Crowd.”
According to the Post, Lewis died at his Chicago home on the morning of September 12.
While “The In Crowd” is his biggest draw, Ramsey Lewis has also produced other hits, including “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water.”
He then recorded Earth, Wind & Fire with other jazz and R&B icons before touring with singer Philip Bailey.
In 1995, Lewis was influential by bringing together names like Grover Washington Jr., Earl Klugh, and Dave Koz to create the crossover supergroup Urban Knights.
“Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fueled by the love and dedication of his fans across the globe,” the statement wrote.
“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 talent. We are forever grateful for your support.”
Ramsey Lewis was born on May 27, 1935 in Chicago, where he grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project.
As a young man, he took piano lessons and played in his church, where his father was the choir director.
Lewis Sr. was a jazz fan who always played Duke Ellington and Art Tatum at home.
He shares his passion with the young Ramsey and takes him to jazz shows.
Lewis also attended Wells High School, where he met saxophonist Wallace Burton, who later invited him to join his band, The Clefs.
Together, they played jazz and R&B.
The Korean War recruited several members, except for Ramsey, bassist Eldee Young and drummer Redd Holt.
Together, they formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio.
The Ramsey Lewis Trio released their first album, “Ramsey Lewis and His Gentlemen of Jazz,” in 1956.
The album was released by the Chess label, and they later performed at New York’s Birdland.
Opportunities presented themselves and the Ramsey Lewis Trio performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and Village Vanguard.
They also recorded with other icons of the genre, including Max Roach, Clark Terry, and Sonny Stitt.
Ramsey Lewis later released an album, “Sun Goddess,” in 1974 with members of Earth, Wind & Fire.
The album introduced Lewis’ integration of fusion and R&B into his music.
Awards and later works
Ramsey Lewis has many honors, including five honorary degrees and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist.
His band’s song “The In Crowd” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and Personal Artifacts at the Smithsonian Institution.
Lewis also received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Award in 2007, honoring piano icons such as Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Billy Taylor, and Cecil Taylor.
Ramsey Lewis hosted the weekly “Legends of Jazz” program on WDCB-FM, which played on Sunday afternoons.
For the past year, he has collaborated with co-writer Aaron Cohen on his memoir of him.
The book “Gentleman of Jazz” will be published in 2023.
Opinions expressed by NY Weekly contributors are their own.