Country Music Hall of Fame Jerry Lee Lewis died, confirms his representative. He was 87 years old.
Lewis’ passing comes just days after his induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. He was inducted into the “Veterans Era Artist” category on October 16, 2022.
“To be recognized by Country Music with their highest honor is a humbling experience,” Lewis shared in a statement. “The little boy from Ferriday, LA. listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams never thought he’d be in a room among them. I’m grateful to everyone who has acknowledged that Jerry Lee Lewis’s music is music country and to our Almighty God for his endless redeeming grace.
Lewis, who is known for hits like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On” and “Great Balls Of Fire” was unable to attend the induction because he was suffering from the flu.
In addition to his recent Country Music Hall of Fame honor, Lewis is also a recipient of the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
Lewis is considered the most influential pianist of the 20th century and is considered a pioneer of Rock N’ Roll.
When 21-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis arrived at Memphis, TN’s Sun Records, he was introduced to owner Sam Phillips as a man who could play piano like Chet Atkins played guitar. This description may have piqued Phillips’ curiosity, but the truth was that Lewis was nothing like Atkins and played the piano like no one else.
Lewis’ fierce, hard-hitting style was derived from a combustible mix of cultural sources – the Holiness Assembly of God Church of Ferriday, LA; Haney’s Big House, a chitlin circuit nightclub across town where Lewis saw a young BB King and all sorts of other blues and R&B bands; recordings of Jimmie Rodgers deeply rooted in his formative memories; the Al Jolson 78 played before Gene Autry matinees at the local cinema; and Hank Williams’ mournful moan carried through the air via “The Louisiana Hayride.” These things all came together in Lewis and came out through his fingers with the speed of lightning and the force of thunder.
He is, as music historian Colin Escott noted, ‘a rock n’ roll who could never get country out of his soul, and a country singer who could never forget rock’ don’t roll”.
The first project Sun Records released from Lewis was a cover of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms”, cut while the original was still on the charts. The first hit, however, came with a song originally recorded by R&B singer Big Maybelle, but which Lewis had learned through a Natchez, MS DJ named Johnny Littlejohn. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On” simultaneously spent two weeks in 1957 atop Billboard’s Country and R&B bestseller charts, peaking at No. 3 on the Top 100. The following year, the follow-up to “Great Balls of Fire” is at the top of the Country chart. for another two weeks.
Controversy derailed Lewis’ early success, but not before Lewis hit the Nation’s Top 10 three more times with “You Win Again”, “Breathless” and “High School Confidential”, each peaking higher on the Country charts than they did on the pop side.
In the 1960s, Lewis left Sun for Smash Records. Where Sun had emphasized Lewis’ abilities as a boogie-woogie rock-and-roll pianist, Smash producers Jerry Kennedy and Eddie Kilroy decided to focus on his country side. They sent him back to radio with songs like “Another Place Another Time” and “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)”. It may have seemed like a radical idea given Lewis’ reputation as a wild man, but it also fit the moment. Months after Lewis had his first country hit in 11 years – 1969’s ‘To Make Love Sweeter for You’ – Johnny Cash, Sonny James and Conway Twitty, all singers who had hit hard at the dawn of rock and roll , topping the Country charts, as well.
The country hits continued into the 1970s when Lewis joined Smash’s parent label, Mercury Records, and then Nashville’s division, Elektra Records. He reached No. 1 with “There’s Got to Be More to Love Than This”, “Would You Take Another Chance on Me” and a cover of Big Bopper’s 1950s rock and roll classic, “Chantilly Lace” . He hit the Top 5 with a pair of iconic ballads, the 1977 waltz “Middle Aged Crazy” and the honky-tonker 1981 “Thirty Nine and Holding.”
In all, he placed 28 singles in the Billboard Country Top 10 over four decades, more hits over a longer period than what appeared on the pop charts, where only half a dozen sides charted in the Top 40.
Lewis continued to record as his bandmates took him into the studio and later generations discovered his music, even recording a live album in 2011 on Jack White’s Third Man Records. His name appeared in the country hits of George Jones (“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”), John Michael Montgomery (“I Love the Way You Love Me”), Tim McGraw (“Southern Voice”) and the Statler Brothers (” How to be a country star”) – although, of course, no one drops his name in his songs more than himself.
“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On” is now part of the National Recording Registry. That and “Great Balls of Fire” are in the Grammy Hall of Fame. While these two records are by far his most famous, those who know his catalog best understand that he has mastered a century of popular music, from 19th-century minstrel tunes to songs from Tin Pan Alley standards. by the classics. rock.
Lewis joins fellow Sun Records Cash, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, Phillips and Elvis Presley in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is also the fourth member of the founding class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 to also become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Presley (1998), the Everly Brothers (2001) and Ray Charles (2021).
While Lewis now joins a select group, he also remains unique in this endeavor. “My style of country music is just me,” Lewis told The Associated Press in 2017. “I couldn’t do anyone else’s.”
Jerry Lee Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis, his children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, his sister Linda Gail Lewis, his cousin Jimmy Swaggart and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews . He was predeceased by his parents Elmo and Mamie Lewis, his sons Steve Allen Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., his siblings Elmo Lewis Jr. and Frankie Jean Lewis and his cousin Mickey Gilley.
Services and more information will be announced in the following days. In lieu of flowers, the Lewis family is requesting that donations be made in honor of Jerry Lee Lewis to the Arthritis Foundation or MusiCares – the non-profit foundation of the GRAMMYs/National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
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