Ramsey Lewis, legendary pianist and NEA Jazz Master, dies at 87

Ramsey Lewis, the three-time Grammy-winning jazz pianist who had a crossover pop hit with The In Crowd, has died. He was 87.

During an incredible 66-year career, Lewis recorded more than 80 albums and received five gold records. He was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2007.

According to a post on his Facebook page, Lewis died peacefully at his home in Chicago on Monday morning.

“Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fuelled by the love and dedication of his fans across the globe,” said his wife, Janet Lewis. “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.”

Born in Chicago in 1935, Ramsey Lewis began taking piano lessons at the age of four. He began playing with a group called the Clefs and later formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio with drummer Isaac “Red” Holt and bassist Eldee Young.

The trio released their debut album in 1956. They scored a hit in 1965 with The In Crowd, which reached No. 5 on the pop charts. Within a year, Lewis was one of the most successful jazz pianists in the U.S., topping the charts again with Hang On Sloopy and Wade in the Water and attracting a wide audience.

Lewis went on to have an impressively prolific recording career, releasing an album almost every year between 1956 and 2011 and continuing until his death. His final album Manha de Carnaval was released in 2021.

Lewis actively supported the Chicago music community, serving on the board of trustees for an inner-city music program and for the city’s public arts high school. In 2005, he created the Ramsey Lewis Foundation to connect at-risk children to music.  In 2007, he was honoured with a Legendary Landmark Award for being “one of the living treasures of Illinois.”

Lewis leaves his wife, Janet; daughters Denise Jeffries and Dawn Allain (Michael); sons Kendall Kelly Lewism, Frayne Lewis (Juletta) and Bobby Lewis (Crystal); and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Those who wish to pay their respects are asked to make a donation to the Jazz Foundation of America at jazzfoundation.org.