Remembering Dr. Lonnie Smith

July 3, 1942 – September 28, 2021


A tribute to the great jazz organist

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Dr Lonnie Smith passed away on Sept. 28, 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the age of 79.

He was born on July 3, 1942 in Buffalo, New York to a family that formed a vocal group that sang on the radio.

As a teenager, Smith sang with the Teen Kings before taking up the organ.

After freelancing and moving to New York, Smith met George Benson and joined his group in 1966, recording two albums (It’s Uptown and Cookbook), making his first recording as a leader in 1967 (Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ), meeting Lou Donaldson, and participating on Donaldson’s hit album Alligator Boogaloo for Blue Note.

Smith was soon signed to Blue Note and led five soul jazz albums of his own during 1968-71, using such sidemen as Lee Morgan, David “Fathead” Newman, and Bennie Maupin.

Although the organ dropped in popularity in the 1970s, Smith continued working and recording for a variety of labels (including Groove Merchant); he billed himself as Dr. Lonnie Smith (even though he was not a doctor) and wore a trademark turban (although he was not a Hindu), adding to his colorful image.

Considered with Joey DeFrancesco to be the top jazz organist since the 1990s, Smith had a busy schedule of performances, always putting on memorable shows that found him stretching out in atmospheric fashion on a wide repertoire; he returned to the Blue Note label in his later years.

Here is Dr. Lonnie Smith in 2011 playing his medium-tempo blues “The Whip” with a European group.

-Scott Yanow


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