Photo credits: Soul Music Records
Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr., a world-renowned jazz pianist, and composer began taking piano lessons at the age of four. On May 27, 1935, he was born in Chicago to industrious, self-taught Southern farm workers who met in church.
From 1947 until 1954, Lewis attended Chicago Music College Preparatory School. His music instructor, Dorothy Mendelsohn, is credited with teaching him how to listen with his inner ear. Lewis had little unique jazz experience aside from his father’s Duke Ellington, Art Tatham, and Mead Lux Lewis albums. Lewis’ first music employment after graduating from Wells High School in 1954 was as an accompanist at Zion Hill Baptist Church. He attended Chicago Music College but dropped out when he was eighteen to marry. He founded the Ramsey Lewis Jazz Trio in 1956.
Ramsey signed with Chess Records in 1957 for the Trio’s first record. Eldee Young and Red Holt’s Trio performed at notable New York jazz venues and traveled as full-time jazz performers. Lewis signed with GRP Records in 1991 after recording for Columbia Records from 1971 to 1974. He earned three Grammy Awards and five gold records between 1967 and 1976. “The In Crowd,” “Wade in the Water,” and “Hang On Sloopy” are among his biggest songs.
Lewis has played performances in all of the major cities, jazz festivals, and summer locations in the United States since 1957, as well as with over twenty-five symphony orchestras. In Chicago, he hosts The Ramsey Lewis Morning Broadcast, a daily radio show, and a weekly syndicated jazz show. He anchored BET’s Jazz Central from 1990 until 1999. In 1992, he was chosen as artistic director of the Ravinia Jazz Festival.
Lewis is on the boards of the Merit Music Program, which offers free music instruction to young people; Cycle, an inner-city self-help high school program; and the Ravinia Mentor Program. He serves as the Cares for Kids Foundation’s honorary chairman. He was voted Radio Personality of the Year in 2000.
Lewis has been married to Janet Tamillow Lewis since 1990, and they have seven children, twelve grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.