The Chicago Journal

Ramsey Lewis, Chicago’s jazz icon, passes away at 87

Chicago icon and jazz legend Ramsey Lewis, best known for the hit song “The In Crowd,” passed away on Monday at the age of 87.

The news emerged after Janet Lewis, his wife, made the announcement via Facebook.


“Jazz pianist, three-Grammy winner, and NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis, who successfully crossed over from the Jazz charts to the pop charts,” the Facebook post read.

The four-time nominated and three-time Grammy-winning musician is best known for the 1965 song, “The In Crowd.”

According to the post, Lewis died at his home in Chicago on the morning of September 12.

While “The In Crowd” is his biggest draw, Ramsey Lewis also produced other hits, including “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water.”

He later recorded with fellow jazz and R&B icons Earth, Wind, & Fire before touring with vocalist Philip Bailey.

In 1995, Lewis was influential in bringing together names like Grover Washington Jr, Earl Klugh, and Dave Koz to create the crossover supergroup, Urban Knights.

“Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fueled by the love and dedication of his fans across the globe,” the statement wrote.

“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 talent. We are forever grateful for your support.”

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Ramsey Lewis was born on May 27, 1935 in Chicago, where he grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project.

He took up piano lessons when he was young and played at his church, where his father was the choir director.

Lewis Sr. was a jazz fan who always played Duke Ellington and Art Tatum at home.

He shared his passion with young Ramsey, taking him to jazz shows.

Lewis also went to Wells High School, where he met saxophonist Wallace Burton, who then invited him to join his band, the Clefs.

Together, they performed jazz and R&B.

The Korean War drafted several members, save for Ramsey, bassist Eldee Young, and drummer Redd Holt.

Together, they formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio.


The Ramsey Lewis Trio released their first album, “Ramsey Lewis and His Gentlemen of Jazz,” in 1956.

The album was released on the Chess label, and they later performed at Birdland in New York.

Opportunities opened up, and the Ramsey Lewis Trio performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and the Village Vanguard.

They also recorded with other genre icons, including Max Roach, Clark Terry, and Sonny Stitt.

Ramsey Lewis later released an album, “Sun Goddess,” in 1974, featuring members of Earth, Wind, & Fire.

The album introduced Lewis’ incorporation of fusion and R&B into his music.

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Ramsey Lewis holds many honors, including five honorary doctorate degrees and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist.

His band’s song “The In Crowd” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and personal artifacts at the Smithsonian Institution.

Lewis also received a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Award, putting him alongside piano icons like Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Billy Taylor, and Cecil Taylor.

Ramsey Lewis hosted the weekly “Legends of Jazz” program on WDCB-FM, which played on Sunday afternoons.

He spent the last year working on his memoir with co-writer Aaron Cohen.

The book, “Gentleman of Jazz,” is set to be released in 2023.


Chicago jazz legend Ramsey Lewis dies at age 87

Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis dead at 87