Dr. Lonnie Smith Day

July 3, 1942 – September 28, 2021

A tribute to the influential organist

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Organist Lonnie Smith was born July 3, 1942 in Lackawanna, New York.

His family formed a vocal group that performed regularly on the radio.

Smith also sang a bit in his early days, performing with several vocal ensembles before he began playing organ.

After working locally, he moved to New York City, made his recording debut with Red Holloway in 1965, and became the organist with George Benson’s band, recording two albums with the guitarist in 1966.

After playing on Lou Donaldson’s hit record of Alligator Boogaloo (he was with the altoist during 1966-68), Smith began leading his own record dates.

Although billed as Dr. Lonnie Smith and wearing a turban, Smith was neither a doctor nor a Hindu.

He recorded r&b-flavored soul jazz records for Blue Note during 1968-70 and had a lower profile in the 1970s and ‘80s (sometimes playing synthesizer or piano) before becoming one of jazz’s leading organists from the 1990s up to the present.

Dr. Lonnie Smith lays down a funky groove with his trio (which includes guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake) in this film clip from the 2015 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.

-Scott Yanow


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