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Chicago's Got My Back
By Allison Horton (Chicago Sun-Times)
Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis credits his hometown, Chicago, for his success.
“Chicago is one of the few cities that allows all genres of music to flourish,” Lewis said Tuesday. “It influenced me as I grew up. Chicago allows you to develop at your own pace.
“The attitude of Chicago is ‘Show me what you got,’ and if you have your ability at the level that you are ready to perform for the public, Chicago is there to support you.”
Born in 1935, the three-time Grammy winner started taking piano lessons at age 4.
Lewis learned Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin.
His father played jazz artists such as Duke Ellington and Art Tatum around the house, but Lewis did not play jazz until 15 when a friend asked him to join his seven-piece jazz band called “The Clefts.” After several members went off to the Korean War, The Ramsey Lewis Trio was created.
Lewis has made more than 80 albums, including five gold records. His hits included “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy,” and “Wade In The Water. For more than a decade, Lewis hosted the weekday morning radio show “The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show” until 2009 on the now defunct WNUA-FM.
Lewis also helped organize the Ravinia Festival’s Jazz Mentor program, where musicians teach jazz to Chicago Public High School students. He has served as the artistic director of the festival’s jazz series for 15 years. In 2003, Lewis along with a partner formed LRSmedia, an independent entertainment company. It co-produced in 2006 with PBS television station WTTW a series of 13 half-hour television programs called “Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis,” which featured jazz legends as well as rising stars.
In 2009, Lewis performed a jazz tribute at Ravinia to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
Last year, Lewis was invited by the Kennedy Center to perform the tribute, which PBS television station WTTW plans to air nationwide April 14. (2/24/2011)