The triple Grammy winner, radio and TV host and seven times gold record recording artist has passed away at age 87.
Ramsey Lewis, the iconic jazz pianist and composer who scored on the pop charts with hits “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade In The Water” died peacefully at his home in Chicago at 87.
Lewis spent his early days in Chicago using his gospel and classical roots to create his own jazz style in the many neighborhood venues that hired young jazz musicians. Playing the organ on Sundays at his local church to piano lessons at the age of 4, he attended Jenner Elementary School and was a graduate of Wells High School.
At the Chicago Music College Preparatory School, he began studying with Dorothy Mendelsohn, and he credited her with teaching him “how to listen with his inner ear” and introducing him to Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. She also entered him in competitions and recitals. “I started studying classical music so young,” Mr. Lewis told the Sun times in 2018 “I loved, and still love, Chopin and Beethoven. And gospel music.
Lewis had more than 80 albums to his credit and toured the world. The Chicago native began composing large-scale musical works later in his career. His first was an eight-movement piece for Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. He also completed a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln – Proclamation of Hope: A Symphonic Poem by Ramsey Lewis. Lewis also hosted radio shows in the 1990s and 2000, including The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show, on WNUA-FM and the syndicated Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis.
His six-decade music career would take him to the height of the jazz world, across the globe to music festivals and honors that included three Grammy Awards and a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award. He recorded 80 albums, five of which attained gold status. For years he hosted the popular radio program “Ramsey Lewis and Legends of Jazz,” begun in 1997, on WNUA-FM.
In 2008, Lewis received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University Chicago and delivered the keynote address at the undergraduate commencement ceremony. His final album was 2021’s Manha de Carnaval.
When asked about his musical influences in a 2018 interview, Mr. Lewis offered this insight:
“That’s a hard one. I don’t know if there’s any one musician who I can say influenced me. I was impressed by the music of Art Tatum, but I cannot play like Art Tatum. Not many musicians can. I was impressed with the piano playing of Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Erroll Garner. … Did Vladimir Horowitz impress me? Yes. Rudolf Serkin? Yes. Any more than Art or Oscar? I don’t know.”
Mr. Lewis chuckled, adding: “Maybe people are now saying Ramsey Lewis impressed them.”
He is survived by his wife; five children; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.