Ramsey Lewis

Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr. (born May 27, 1935) is an American jazz composer, pianist and radio personality.[1] Lewis has recorded over 80 albums and has received five gold records and three Grammy Awards so far in his career.

Ramsey Lewis
Lewis in 1998
Lewis in 1998
Background information
Birth nameRamsey Emmanuel Lewis Jr.
Born (1935-05-27) May 27, 1935 (age 86)
OriginChicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation(s)Composer, pianist, radio personality
  • Piano
  • keyboards
Years active1956–present
Associated acts


Ramsey Lewis was born in Chicago, Illinois,[1] to Ramsey Lewis Sr. and Pauline Lewis. He began taking piano lessons at the age of four. Lewis would eventually join a jazz group called the clefs. He later formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio with drummer Isaac "Red" Holt and bassist Eldee Young.[1] They eventually joined up with Chess Records.[2]

During 1956 the trio issued their debut album, Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Swing.[3] 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 many 1980's releases.

By 1966, Lewis was one of the nation's most successful jazz pianists, topping the charts with "The In Crowd", "Hang On Sloopy",[4] and "Wade in the Water". All three singles each sold over one million copies and were awarded gold discs.[5] Many of his recordings attracted a large non-jazz audience. In the 1970s, Lewis often played electric piano, although by later in the decade he was sticking to acoustic and using an additional keyboardist in his groups.[6]

In 1994, Lewis appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, alongside other prominent jazz artists Herbie Hancock and Roy Ayers. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by TIME magazine.

In addition to recording and performing, Lewis hosts the weekly syndicated radio program Legends of Jazz, created in 1990 and currently syndicated by United Stations Radio Networks.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

Lewis performing at JazzFe 2006

Lewis is 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.[10] Ramsey also serves on the board of trustees for the Merit School of Music, a Chicago inner-city music program and The Chicago High School for the Arts, the public arts high school in Chicago established in 2009. Early in 2005, the Ramsey Lewis Foundation was created to help connect at-risk children to the world of music. As an offshoot of that foundation, Lewis plans to form a Youth Choir and Youth Orchestra. 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. Lewis is an Honorary Board member of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Lewis is a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. In May 2008, Lewis received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University Chicago upon delivering the keynote address at the undergraduate commencement ceremony.


Year recorded Title Label
1956 Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Swing Argo
1957 Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Jazz, Volume 2 Argo
1958 Lem Winchester and the Ramsey Lewis Trio Argo
1959 Down to Earth (The Ramsey Lewis Trio Plays Music from the Soil) EmArcy
1959 An Hour with the Ramsey Lewis Trio Argo
1960 Early in the Morning (Lorez Alexandria with the Ramsey Lewis Trio) Argo
1960 Stretching Out Argo
1960 The Ramsey Lewis Trio in Chicago Argo
1961 More Music from the Soil Argo
1961 Never on Sunday Argo
1961 Sound of Christmas Argo
1962 The Sound of Spring Argo
1962 Country Meets the Blues Argo
1962 Bossa Nova Argo
1963 Pot Luck Argo
1963 Barefoot Sunday Blues Argo
1964 Bach to the Blues Argo
1964 The Ramsey Lewis Trio at the Bohemian Caverns Argo
1964 More Sounds of Christmas Argo
1964–65 You Better Believe Me – with Jean DuShon Argo
1965 The In Crowd Argo
1965 Hang On Ramsey! Cadet
1965 Choice! The Best of the Ramsey Lewis Trio (compilation) Cadet
1966 Wade in the Water Cadet
1966 The Movie Album Cadet
1966 Goin' Latin Cadet
1967 Dancing in the Street Cadet
1967 Up Pops Ramsey Lewis Cadet
1968 Maiden Voyage Cadet
1968 Mother Nature's Son Cadet
1968 Ramsey Lewis Live in Tokyo Cadet
1969 Encore! Ramsey Lewis in Tokyo (Vol. 2) Chess/Victor (Japan)
1969 Another Voyage Cadet
1969 The Piano Player Cadet
1970 Them Changes Cadet
1971 Back to the Roots Cadet
1972 The Groover Cadet
1972 The Best of Ramsey Lewis (compilation) Cadet
1974 Solid Ivory Cadet
1972 Upendo Ni Pamoja Columbia
1973 Funky Serenity Columbia
1973 Ramsey Lewis' Newly Recorded All-Time Non-Stop Golden Hits Columbia
1974 Solar Wind Columbia
1974 Sun Goddess Columbia
1975 Don't It Feel Good Columbia
1976 Salongo Columbia
1977 Love Notes Columbia
1977 Tequila Mockingbird Columbia
1978 Legacy Columbia
1979 Ramsey Columbia
1980 Routes Columbia
1981 Blues for the Night Owl Columbia
1981 Three Piece Suite Columbia
1982 Ramsey Lewis Live at the Savoy Columbia
1982 Chance Encounter Columbia
1983 Les Fleurs Columbia
1983 Reunion Columbia
1984 The Two of Us – with Nancy Wilson Columbia
1985 Fantasy Columbia
1987 Keys to the City Columbia
1988 Classic Encounter Columbia
1989 We Meet Again – with Billy Taylor Columbia
1989 Urban Renewal Columbia
1992 Ivory Pyramid GRP
1993 Sky Islands GRP
1995 Urban Knights I GRP
1996 Between the Keys GRP
1997 Urban Knights II GRP
1998 Dance of the Soul GRP
1999 Appassionata Narada
2000 Urban Knights III Narada
2001 Urban Knights IV Narada
2002 Meant to Be – with Nancy Wilson Narada
2003 Urban Knights V Narada
2003 Simple Pleasures – with Nancy Wilson Narada
2004 Time Flies Narada
2005 Urban Knights VI Narada
2005 With One Voice Narada
2009 Songs from the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey Concord
2011 Taking Another Look Hidden Beach
2019 Urban Knights VII Ropeadope
2021 Maha de Carnaval Above Ground label

As sidemanEdit

With Max Roach

  • MAX (Argo, 1958)

With Jimmy Woode

With Young/Holt

  • Feature Spot (Cadet, 1967) [11]

Awards and recognitionsEdit

Lewis performing live in the KPLU studio on October 2009

Grammy historyEdit

  • Career Wins: 3
  • Career nominations: 4[12]
Ramsey Lewis Grammy Awards History
Year Category Title Genre Label Result
1965 Best Jazz Performance – Small Group or
Soloist with Small Group
"The In Crowd" Jazz Argo/Chess Won
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
1965 The In Crowd US RIAA: Gold[5] Argo
1966 Hang On Ramsey! US RIAA: Gold[5] Cadet
1966 Wade in the Water US RIAA: Gold[5] Cadet
1968 Sound of Christmas US RIAA: Gold[5] Argo
1976 Sun Goddess US RIAA: Gold[5] Columbia


  • 1997: Ramsey Lewis was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the state's highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in the area of The Performing Arts.[13]
  • 2002: Lewis participated in the 2002 Winter Olympics torch relay, lighting the cauldron for its brief stop in Chicago.[14]
  • 2003: NAACP Image Award, Best Jazz Artist, for his album Simple Pleasures (2003)[15]
  • 2006: 22nd Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards, Best Gospel Instrumental Album, With One Voice (2005)[16]
  • 2007: National Endowment for the Arts, Jazz Masters Award[17]
  • 2007: Landmarks Illinois, Legendary Landmark Award, as one of living treasures of Illinois. "Just like our landmarked buildings, our three Legendary Landmarks have been critical to the civic well-being of Chicago and stand as a testimony to the greatness of our cultural integrity." said David Bahlman, president of Landmarks Illinois.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 752. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ "An Interview with Ramsey Lewis". Smoothviews.com.
  3. ^ "Ramsey Lewis: Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Swing". 45worlds.com.
  4. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 50 – The Soul Reformation: Phase three, soul music at the summit. [Part 6] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 192, 193 & 207. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  6. ^ "Billboard: Ramsey Lewis". Billboard.com. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  7. ^ "United Stations - Shows | Legends of Jazz". Unitedstations.com.
  8. ^ WNUA Swings to Spanish Format, Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2009
  9. ^ "On Air - Smooth Jazz WNUA 95.5 - Chicago". Archived from the original on September 18, 2008.
  10. ^ "Ravinia Festival". Archived from the original on August 17, 2007.
  11. ^ "Eldee Young / Red Holt - Feature Spot". Discogs.
  12. ^ "Ramsey Lewis". Grammy.com. 23 November 2020.
  13. ^ "Laureates by Year – The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois (in American English). Retrieved March 7, 2016.
  14. ^ Tony Faillo. "Winter 2002 Olympic Torch". Worldisround.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  15. ^ "NAACP: Ramsey Lewis". Theenvelope.latimes.com. November 11, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  16. ^ "Stellar Gospel Music Awards". Thestellarawards.com. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  17. ^ "2007 NEA Jazz Master: Ramsey Lewis". Arts.gov.
  18. ^ "Legendary Landmarks Gala". Landmarks.org. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2011.

External linksEdit