Lewis grew up in Chicago and began taking piano lessons at four years old. He was a sworn jazz fan whose first band the Clefs began while he was in high school. The three band members who weren’t drafted in the Korean War—Lewis, Eldee Young, and Redd Holt—formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio. They would go on to perform regularly, release their first album on Chess in 1956, and ultimately release their Grammy-winning hit “The In-Crowd” in 1965.
Young and Holt splintered off to form their own band Young-Holt Unlimited, while Lewis would go on to work with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White. His 1974 album Sun Goddess was produced by White and features members of Earth, Wind & Fire. Lewis became an NEA Jazz Master in 2007. He recorded prolifically throughout the rest of his life. A new Beatles Songbook album is due November 11, and his memoir is due in 2023.