Dr. Lonnie Smith 1942 – 2021

Legendary organist Dr. Lonnie Smith died on Wednesday at age 79. Smith passed away due to pulmonary fibrosis, a form of lung disease, at his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His death was confirmed by his longtime label Blue Note Records.

“Doc was a musical genius who possessed a deep, funky groove and a wry, playful spirit,” said Blue Note President Don Was. “His mastery of the drawbars was equaled only by the warmth in his heart. He was a beautiful guy and all of us at Blue Note Records loved him a lot.”

A master of the Hammond B3 organ, Smith was born in Lackawanna, New York on July 3, 1942. Smith learned to play music by ear at an early age, starting with trumpet as his main instrument. A local music store owner, Art Kubera, changed the trajectory of Lonnie’s career when he gave Smith a brand-new Hammond B3 organ in the early 1960s.

Smith quickly gained notoriety for his skills on the instrument and joined guitarist George Benson’s band. Smith contributed to Benson’s 1966 album for Columbia It’s Uptown and scored a deal of his own with the label leading to the release of his debut solo LP, Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, in 1967. He also contributed to Lou Donaldson’s hit record Alligator Bogaloo that same year.

Dr. Lonnie Smith developed a funky and soul-laden style all his own as he moved to Blue Note. Smith put out a series of five incredible albums for the venerable label between 1968 and 1970 including Think! and Move Your Hand. The organist was a fixture of the jazz scene over the decades that followed and continued to perform and record frequently outside of a few breaks from the music industry. Dr. Lonnie Smith collaborated with a who’s who of musicians across multiple genres over the years including Dionne Warwick, Ron Carter, The Roots, Santana and Norah Jones.

Smith kept a busy performance schedule from the late 1990s forward with his trio featuring guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamire Williams. Drummer Johnathan Blake held down the seat more recently. The musician returned to Blue Note for 2016’s Evolution. In 2017, Dr. Lonnie Smith was honored as an NEA Jazz Master. The organist issued Breathe earlier this year on Blue Note, which featured collaborations with Iggy Pop and now stands as Smith’s final album.