June 18, 2024

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Remembering jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis who has died at age 87: Video, Photos

Renowned jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, whose music entertained fans over a more than 60-year career that began with the Ramsey Lewis Trio and made him one of the country’s most successful jazz musicians, has died. He was 87.

Lewis is revered in jazz circles for 1960s hits like “The ‘In’ Crowd,” “Hang on Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water.” He earned three Grammy awards and seven gold records. The trio’s first record in 1956 was “Ramsey Lewis and the Gentlemen of Swing.”

Lewis died Monday in his sleep at his Chicago home, according to his son, Bobby Lewis.

“He was just at peace,” Bobby Lewis told The Associated Press on Monday night. “Most people say when they met dad that he was a class act. He was that way even through his last breath.”

Ramsey Lewis described his approach to composing and performing in a 2011 interview with the AP.

“Life is a solo, and it continues,” Lewis said, sitting at the dining room table in his downtown Chicago home. “I just know that when I put my hands on the piano it’s going to flow.”

Lewis first took piano lessons at age 4. He 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.

Truly a Chicago icon and native son, Ramsey Lewis was born in Chicago in 1935 and grew up in the Cabrini Green public housing project and went on to master the piano and perform for audiences the world over.

Unknown 1 2According to his Facebook page, he died peacefully at his home in Chicago Monday morning. His wife, Janet, announced his death on September 12. “Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fueled by the love and dedication of his fans across the globe. 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 talents. We are forever grateful for your support.”

Ramsey Lewis dead: Chicago-born jazz great dies at 87 - Chicago Sun-Times

A Twitter account managed on behalf of the late Chicago journalist Merri Dee posted: “We send our love and prayers to Jan and the entire @RamseyLewis family. Ramsey was so loved and cherished by Merri. We imagine they are once again together, surrounded by music and the love of their families”…the Honoring Merri Dee Twitter account.

The National Endowment for the Arts tweeted,

“We are deeply saddened to hear that pianist, composer, and 2007 NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis passed today in Chicago at the age of 87. We presented Lewis with vocal legend Nancy Wilson at the Masonic Auditorium in November 2003 during the 21st San Francisco Jazz Festival.”

Lewis’ son Bobby told NBC5 News: “He started playing jazz piano in clubs when he was 15 or 16. The excitement and the energy he got from his fans is what kept him going. His music lives, so celebrate him by playing your favorite song tonight.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted:

“Ramsey Lewis, from Chicago’s West Side and one of the greatest musicians of all time, has died. For more than 40 years, we were neighbors. Our children grew up together. He first hired Maurice White to be his drummer before his Earth Wind and Fire fame. He had a kinship with musicians.

“Ramsey had exquisite taste and was formally trained and disciplined. I will miss him as a friend and a neighbor. He joined the ranks of great musicians. He was a radio personality, international pianist and composer. Rest In Peace, my brother beloved. Jesse.”

The mayor also shared condolences:

“Ramsey Lewis was a first-class representative of Chicago to his fans around the world, and we’re grateful that he was a native son of our fine city,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Twitter. “Fans here loved experiencing his creative genius at our many concert venues, and he was equally as energized by the local crowds.”

Chicago radio veteran Richard Steele told NBC5 News:

“He really crossed genres along with being a great piano player.”

RAMSEY LEWIS WAS a native Chicagoan who went on to play the piano all over the world. I was at a work fundraiser years ago. Merri Dee was the mistress of ceremonies. What a great night for “the in crowd.”

According to online sources, Lewis started playing piano at the age of four, was an American jazz composer, pianist and radio personality. Lewis recorded over 80 albums and received five gold records and three Grammy Awards in his career.

“Ramsey Lewis was one of the giants of the American musical landscape. A jazz man, yes, but even that would not adequately describe this legendary pianist/composer and his contributions to us all. His approximately 80 albums and three Grammy Awards stretch from Sinatra and Ella and the beginnings of rock and roll to hip-hop and jazz being recognized as America’s truly only classical music,” said Kevin Powell, writer/civil and human rights activist. “Mr. Lewis is a national and global treasure whose work and spirit will be with us forever.”

Ramsey Lewis

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