The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Ramsey Lewis

Share on Social Media

Information about Ramsey Lewis

Profile image of Ramsey Lewis

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Jazz Pianist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Gray
Favorite Food:
Vegetables
Favorite Time of Year:
All Seasons
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Paris, France
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
5/27/1935
Birth Location:
Chicago, Illinois

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Jazz Pianist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Gray
Favorite Food:
Vegetables
Favorite Time of Year:
All Seasons
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Paris, France
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
5/27/1935
Birth Location:
Chicago
See how Ramsey Lewis is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

World-famous jazz musician and composer Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr. was first given piano lessons at age four. He was born in Chicago on May 27, 1935, to hard-working, self-educated Southern farm workers who met in church.

Lewis attended Chicago Music College Preparatory School from 1947 to 1954. He credits his music teacher, Dorothy Mendelsohn, with teaching him how to listen with his inner ear. Other than his father’s Duke Ellington, Art Tatham and Mead Lux Lewis records, Lewis had no special exposure to jazz. After graduating from Wells High School in 1954, Lewis’ first music job was as an accompanist at the Zion Hill Baptist Church. He enrolled in Chicago Music College, but left at age eighteen to marry. In 1956, he formed the Ramsey Lewis Jazz Trio and signed with Chess Records in 1957 for the Trio’s first album. The Trio, composed of Eldee Young and Red Holt, played in famous New York jazz clubs and toured as full-time jazz musicians. Lewis recorded for Columbia Records from 1971 to 1974 and signed with GRP Records in 1991. He is the winner of three Grammy Awards, and from 1967 to 1976 earned five gold records. His major hits include “The In Crowd,” “Wade in the Water” and “Hang On Sloopy.”

Since 1957, Lewis has performed concerts in all the major clubs, jazz festivals and summer venues in the United States and with more than twenty-five symphony orchestras. He has a daily radio show, The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show in Chicago and a weekly syndicated jazz show. From 1990 to 1999, he hosted BET’s Jazz Central. He was named artistic director of the Ravinia Jazz Festival in 1992.

Lewis is on the board of the Merit Music Program, which provides free music lessons to youth; Cycle, an inner-city self-help high school program; and the Ravinia Mentor Program. He serves as honorary chairman of the Cares for Kids Foundation. He was named 2000’s Radio Personality of the Year.

Residing in Chicago, Lewis has been married to Janet Tamillow Lewis since 1990 and is the father of seven children, grandfather of twelve and great-grandfather of one.

See how Ramsey Lewis is related to other HistoryMakers
Click Here To Explore The Archive Today!
  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ramsey Lewis interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ramsey Lewis's favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ramsey Lewis describes his mother's background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ramsey Lewis remembers his father's background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ramsey Lewis discusses his family life
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ramsey Lewis shares memories of his early musical training
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ramsey Lewis recalls his home life
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ramsey Lewis describes his childhood personality and interests
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ramsey Lewis recalls his childhood environs, Chicago's Near North Side
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ramsey Lewis describes his school experience
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ramsey Lewis reflects on his father's musical ambitions
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ramsey Lewis recalls his father's love for gospel and jazz music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ramsey Lewis discusses music and math and recalls his first piano teacher
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ramsey Lewis remembers his musical mentor, Dorothy Mendelsohn and his musical development in his early teens
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ramsey Lewis begins to discuss members of his first musical group, the Cleffs
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ramsey Lewis recalls joining the Cleffs and learning to play jazz from Wallace Burton
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ramsey Lewis talks about combining college academics with musical training
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ramsey Lewis details the Ramsey Lewis Trio's introduction to music executive Phil Chess
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Second slating of Ramsey Lewis interview
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ramsey Lewis recalls the Ramsey Lewis Trio's first Chess recordings
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ramsey Lewis remembers Holmes 'Daddy-O' Daylie's support during the early years of the Ramsey Lewis Trio
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ramsey Lewis recalls the Ramsey Lewis Trio's first record deal
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ramsey Lewis reviews the life of the Ramsey Lewis Trio
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ramsey Lewis discusses the Ramsey Lewis Trio's hit song, 'The In Crowd'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ramsey Lewis details the break-up of the Ramsey Lewis Trio
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ramsey Lewis recalls the Ramsey Lewis Trio's 1959 New York performances
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ramsey Lewis describes the musical influences of the Ramsey Lewis Trio
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ramsey Lewis remembers Chicago music label Chess Records' foray into jazz with their Argo subsidiary
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ramsey Lewis remembers his own early jazz influences
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ramsey Lewis discusses the Ramsey Lewis Trio's hit, 'Hang on Sloopy'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ramsey Lewis describes his association with Maurice White and the recording of the hit 'Sun Goddess'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ramsey Lewis details changing relationships with band members in the Ramsey Lewis Trio
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ramsey Lewis comments on Earth, Wind and Fire
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ramsey Lewis discusses his collaborations with arranger and producer Charles Stepney
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ramsey Lewis describes performing with orchestras and at large venues
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ramsey Lewis details his years on the Columbia Records music label
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ramsey Lewis gives an overview of his hit records
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ramsey Lewis describes changes in his musical ensemble