Dr. Lonnie Smith, the Hammond B-3 organ virtuoso who was named the NEA Jazz Master in 2017, died today at his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Blue Note Records confirmed the news, saying the cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis. He was 79 years old.
Smith was born in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, New York and grew up testing various instruments. In the 1960s, he was gifted a Hammond organ and built a career as a musician. He regularly collaborated with George benson in the 1960s and released music as the bandleader on Columbia Records. He was hired by saxophonist Lou Donaldson to perform on his hit song “Alligator Boogaloo.”
Signed with Blue Note as a bandleader in 1968, Smith released five albums for the label in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While he would continue to perform and record for several decades, he finally returned to Blue Note in 2016. His final albums were All in my mind (2018) and the Don was produced To breathe (2021). The latter had multiple collaborations with Iggy Pop.
“Doc was a musical genius who possessed a deep, funky rhythm and an ironic, playful spirit,” said Don Was, a contributor to Smith and president of Blue Note, in a statement. His mastery of the drawbars was matched only by the warmth of his heart. He was a beautiful guy and all of us at Blue Note Records loved him very much. “