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Ramsey Lewis: A Father’s Passion

Ramsey Lewis:  A Father’s Passion


“Dad, I love talking to you.” “Well, I love talking with you too, Son.” This, in my most straightforward words, is/was my relationship with my father, Ramsey Lewis, Jr. Once or twice a week, if I was lucky, I would call or stop by his house, and we would talk. We’d talk about God. We’d talk about love, life, and relationships. We’d talk about his childhood and my childhood as if he didn’t know all about my childhood already. This is a glimpse of the incredible moments I shared with my father.

“My Dad would say that after my grandfather got home from work, he would ask, ‘How did you spend your time today, sonny?”

Ramsey Lewis with his great-grandson, Dennis III

Dad was always a family man; he took seriously his role as a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He would make every moment meaningful. He would ask questions that would draw us closer in our relationship, never giving in to negativity. Dad would tell me, “I just don’t have a fake bone in my body.” Because of this, I could come to him with any challenge, and he would be completely transparent.

Ramsey Lewis with his grandson, Jordan (Bobby’s son) and his son Rev. Bobby Lewis

In recent years my father would tell me stories of his childhood, and my grandfather Ramsey Sr. Dad would say that after my grandfather got home from work, he would ask, ‘How did you spend your time today, sonny?” Everyone in dad’s family at that time called him “Sonny.” Dad wasn’t a teen yet, but his father (my grandfather) held him accountable for how he spent his time.

Celebrating his grandson, Jordan’s, college graduation. L-R Crystal Lewis (Bobby’s wife), Ramsey Lewis, Jordan Lewis, Jan Lewis (Ramsey’s wife) and Bobby Lewis

My grandfather was trying to ensure that my dad used his time wisely. My grandfather was the choir director at their church and loved music. This filtered down to my father and so on to me, my siblings, and the grandchildren.

“Dad insisted that we learn to play at least two instruments. So, we would have piano lessons every Saturday morning growing up.”

Ramsey Lewis with son, Ramsey III
Ramsey Lewis with  granddaughter, Apryl

Dad believed in us spending our time wisely on the things we were passionate about. He also felt everyone has a unique talent and thought it essential to find and nurture it, and Dad wanted to be a part of that journey with each of us. Dad insisted that we learn to play at least two instruments. So, we would have piano lessons every Saturday morning growing up. During the week, we could take lessons on the second instrument of our choice. We would perform and have concerts in the backyard.

Ramsey Lewis with his granddaughter, Apryl

Dad also loved playing basketball, and we’d play pick-up games with him in the backyard. With my siblings and his grand and great-grandchildren, Dad was always present. Whenever we called him, he’d make it seem like he was waiting by the phone for our call. Ready to hear, listen and discover life with us! He and mom would come to the dance recitals. They would come to our music showcases. He was there for the birthdays and every other celebration in between.

Dad’s heart was full of love for his family. I think that he heard my grandfather asking him every day, “What did you do with your time, sonny?” and although dad could not tell him face-to-face, dad could smile, knowing that he was spending his time wisely on his passion, his family.

Ramsey Lewis celebrating his 70th birthday with his family.

My father had a special relationship with each of my brothers and sisters, seven of us total (five boys and two girls). Unfortunately, two of my brothers have passed, Kevyn and Ramsey III. Additionally, he enjoyed spending time with each of his seventeen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. My mom Jan continues his legacy of faith, hope, and love as the matriarch of our family.


RAMSEY LEWIS SON, BOBBYRev. Bobby Lewis, minister, singer, song witer, and producer

 Carrying forward a vibrant legacy of music and ministry, Rev. Bobby Lewis brings a refreshing new flavor to the contemporary urban gospel.

The son of legendary jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, Bobby studied music in high school at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. He then attended the University of Miami School of Music before moving to Los Angeles to work as a professional drummer. While in L.A., Bobby jumped head-first into the music industry by working at Death Row Records and performed live as the drummer with Immature on the “We Got It” Tour and with Jon. B. on the “Cool Relax” “promo” Tour. In 2005, Bobby contributed vocals to his brother Frayne’s self-titled album, and he’s also written and performed on his father’s albums throughout the years.

Rev. Bobby Lewis and his wife Crystal are former members at J.W. James A.M.E church in Maywood, Ill., which was co-founded by Bobby’s aunt and Ramsey’s sister, the Rev. Dr. Lucille Lewis Jackson.  Bobby launched Joy Life Center, a community and worship facility, this year. His ministry produces, creates, and spreads content rooted in the gospel focusing on the JOY of the LORD as our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) in our journey through life… precisely what his EP “I’m a Worshipper” is all about. Bobby’s work was recognized by the Gospel Choice Music Awards taking home Best Gospel House Song of the Year at this year’s awards show and as the headline performer at the Ravinia Festival on June 19th in Celebration of his Father Ramsey. Bobby and Crystal have three incredible children: Jordan, Niya, and Asia.

You can follow Bobby Lewis here: www.joylifecenter.org  Instagram – pastor_Bobby,  Facebook – Joy Life Center, Twitter – pastorbJLC, Tik Tok – Joy Life Center

The Life And Times of Ramsey Lewis


As his good friend and former president, Barack Obama said, “Ramsey Lewis is a man who has touched all of our lives. Not everybody finds their calling in life as a four year old boy sitting at a piano in the living room, but ever since he did he’s filled our lives with music and with joy.”

Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr. was born on May 27, 1935, in Chicago. Growing up in the Cabrini-Green housing project—home to other future musical greats including Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler. He began taking piano lessons at age four and played piano at church, where his father was choir director. A jazz fan who played lots of Duke Ellington and Art Tatum at home and took his son to jazz concerts, Ramsey Lewis Sr. encouraged Ramsey to embrace that music. But his son, who dreamed of playing classical music in the great symphony halls while attending the Chicago Music College Preparatory School (he later studied at DePaul University), didn’t get into jazz until his early teens.


Lewis told a Chicago Sun-Times interviewer in 2018, “I lucked out, because both my parents loved classical and gospel music. My dad loved jazz as well. So, I was hearing this music around the house since I was born.”

Lewis recorded over 80 albums and received five gold records and three Grammy Awards in his career. His album The In Crowd earned Lewis critical praise and the 1965 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance.

RAMSEY LEWIS was an iconic leader in the contemporary jazz movement for over 50 years with an unforgettable sound and outgoing personality that  allowed him to crossover to the pop and R&B charts.



Click below and enjoy listening to the amazing Ramsey Lewis Trio

Ramsey Lewis (p), Eldee Young (b), Isaac “Red” Holt (ds) Album:” Ramsey Lewis & His Gentlemen of Jazz ” Recorded:Chicago, 1958

The Ramsey Lewis Trio

The Ramsey Lewis Trio, with bassist Eldee Young and percussionist Redd Holt, became a fixture on the Chicago jazz scene, releasing their debut album, Ramsey Lewis & His Gentlemen of Jazz, back in 1956. Lewis earned his first gold record, as well as a Grammy award for Best Jazz Performance, for their swinging version of Dobie Gray’s hit The In Crowd. He returned to the pop charts in 1966 with versions of Hang On Sloopy and Wade In The Water. After Young and Holt left Lewis’ trio to form their own group, Lewis hired a new rhythm section with Cleveland Eaton on bass and Maurice White on drums. When White left the band to form Earth, Wind & Fire, Morris Jennings signed on as the trio’s new percussionist. White returned to produce Lewis’ 1974 smash album entitled Sun Goddess, in which Lewis first experimented with electronic keyboards and featured members of Earth, Wind & Fire on the album. In 1983, Lewis returned to the studio with Young and Holt for the album Reunion. Throughout his illustrious career, Lewis who was a NEA Jazz Master, had also joined forces with countless other artists to create new and innovative music. In 1984, he collaborated with Nancy Wilson on The Two of Us, in 1988 he recorded with London’s Philharmonic Orchestra for the album A Classic Encounter, and in 1989 Lewis and Dr. Billy Taylor cut a set of piano duets in We Meet Again. In 1997, Lewis added disc jockey to his resume, hosting a popular show on Chicago’s WNUA-FM that ran until 2009

Over the years, Lewis performed and recorded in a remarkable variety of musical settings. Throughout the ’70s, he embraced R&B and Latin music without abandoning mainstream jazz. In 1983, on the album Reunion, he reconstituted his most famous trio. The following year, he collaborated with singing great Nancy Wilson on The Two of Us.

They were married for 32 years

Ramsey Lewis with his wife Jan Lewis at Chene Park on June 22, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan.

The late jazz musician and his second wife Jan were married for over three decades, having tied the knot in 1990

The couple would have celebrated their pearl wedding anniversary amid the pandemic in 2020, with this year marking 32 years of marriage.

Over the years, Lewis and wife, Jan, were often seen to share their support for each other in their creative passions.


In 1992, Lewis signed with the leading fusion and smooth jazz label, GRP Records, debuting with the ballad album, Ivory Pyramid, by his fusion quintet. Rich in vocals, the album was co-produced by him with his son Frayne Lewis and Carl Griffin. In 1995, he introduced the crossover supergroup Urban Knights, featuring Grover Washington Jr., Earl Klugh, and Dave Koz. Urban Knights I was the first of eight albums by the band. In 2005, returning to his gospel roots, Lewis recorded With One Voice, which earned him the Stellar Gospel Music Award for Best Gospel Instrumental Album.

Click below o hear the mellow sound of the Urban Knights

And in an amazing burst of creativity beginning in 2006, Lewis lived out his classical dreams. He composed the jazz ballet, To Know Her..., for Chicago’s celebrated Joffrey Ballet Company, and Muses and Amusements, for his new trio and the Turtle Island Quartet. Then came Proclamation of Hope: A Symphonic Poem by Ramsey Lewis. A work in eight movements with visuals and historical materials, it featured his trio and a 21-piece ensemble. Following its premiere at Ravinia, it was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Along with Colors: The Ecology of Oneness, a visually enhanced, ecology-themed work for trio that premiered at Ravinia, and in Tokyo, Proclamation was shown on PBS.

In addition to his extensive recorded output, Lewis has also made a lasting mark as host of The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show on Chicago’s WNUA-FM. The program, for which he was awarded Records & Radio’s Personality of the Year Award in 1999 and 2000, ran for a dozen years. In 2006, a new show, Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, went into syndication.

An educator and cultural force in the community, Lewis was Art Tatum Professor in Jazz Studies at Roosevelt University and founded the Ramsey Lewis Foundation to help connect at-risk children to the world of music.

Among his many honors: five honorary doctorate degrees and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist. The In Crowd single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and his personal memorabilia reside at the Smithsonian Institution. He received a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, which placed him the hallowed company of such piano legends as Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Billy Taylor, and Cecil Taylor.

Into his late eighties, Lewis still connected with younger generations. “The artistry of Ramsey Lewis is his ability to present and show something new about something so wonderfully established; its evolutions enhancing it and making it greater,” wrote a Canadian jazz radio personality. “Like that favorite teacher who made you say I didn’t know that or wow, that’s way more cool and neat than I ever imagined.”

Lewis reflected, “I would like to leave behind something that tells my story. Who I am, where I’ve been, what I think, what I feel. Something for my kids, grandkids, great grandkids and everyone. So that thirty years from now people will say, ‘Let me check his book out, my mom and dad used to talk about him.’ Through this book, I would like readers to come away with how commitment and honesty are combined to make your life what you want it to be.


Ramsey Lewis’ final record album, The Beatles Songbook will be released this fall via Steele Records.

Ramsey Lewis died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Chicago on the morning of September 12, 2022. He was 87. He spent the last year of his life writing his memoir Gentleman of Jazz, with co-writer Aaron Cohen. The book will be published in May 2023 by Blackstone Publishing.

We’d say Ramsey Lewis did a very fine job with how ” he spent his time” and his daddy would have been very proud.


Christine Crosby is the editorial director for GRAND – The Magazine for Awesome Grandparents. Enjoy GRAND here www.ReadGrand.com







Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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