Dr. Lonnie Smith (born July 3, 1942 in Lackawanna, New York) is a jazz Hammond B3 organist and pianist, who converted to Sikhism in the mid-1970s.
He was born in Lackawanna, New York, into a family with a vocal group and radio program. Smith says that his mother was a major influence on him musically, as she introduced him to gospel, classical, and jazz music. He was part of several vocal ensembles in the 1950s, including the Teen Kings. Art Kubera, the owner of a local music store, gave Smith his first organ, a Hammond B3.
Smith's affinity for R&B melded with his own personal style as he became active in the local music scene. He moved to New York City, where he met George Benson, the guitarist for Jack McDuff's band. Benson and Smith connected on a personal level, and the two formed the George Benson Quartet, featuring Lonnie Smith, in 1966.
After two albums under Benson's leadership, It's Uptown and Cookbook, Smith recorded his first solo album (Finger Lickin' Good) in 1967, with George Benson and Melvin Sparks on guitar, Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax, and Marion Booker on drums. This combination remained stable for the next five years.
After recording several albums with Benson, Smith became a solo recording artist and has since recorded over 30 albums under his own name. Numerous prominent jazz artists have joined Smith on his albums and in his live performances, including Lee Morgan, David "Fathead" Newman, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Blue Mitchell, Joey DeFrancesco and Joe Lovano.
In 1967, Smith met Lou Donaldson, who put him in contact with Blue Note Records. Donaldson asked the quartet to record an album for Blue Note, Alligator Bogaloo. Blue Note signed Smith for the next four albums, all in the soul jazz style, including Think (with Melvin Sparks, Marion Booker, Lee Morgan and David Newman) and Turning Point (with Lee Morgan, Bennie Maupin, Melvin Sparks and Idris Muhammad). Smith also plays for college universities across the nation.
Smith's next album Move Your Hand was recorded at the Club Harlem in Atlantic City, New Jersey in August 1969. The album's reception allowed his reputation to grow beyond the Northeast. He would record another studio album Drives and one more live album Live at Club Mozambique (recorded in Detroit on May 21, 1970) before leaving Blue Note.
In the mid-1970s, Dr. Lonnie Smith converted to Sikhism. Smith has also been referred to from around that time as "Dr. Lonnie Smith" although the honorific does not represent an academic doctorate degree.
Smith toured the northeastern United States heavily during the 1970s. He concentrated largely on smaller neighborhood venues during this period. His sidemen included Ronnie Cuber, Dave Hubbard, Bill Easley and George Adams on sax, Donald Hahn on trumpet, George Benson and Larry McGee on guitars, and Joe Dukes, Sylvester Goshay, Phillip Terrell, Marion Booker, Jimmy Lovelace, Charles Crosby, Art Gore, Norman Connors and Bobby Durham on drums.
Smith has performed at several prominent jazz festivals with artists including Grover Washington, Jr., Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Lou Donaldson and Ron Holloway. He has also played with musicians outside of jazz, such as Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Etta James, Joan Cartwright, and Esther Phillips.
He was named the "Organ Keyboardist of the Year" in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009 by the Jazz Journalist Association.
1966: Finger-lickin' good (Columbia)
1968: Think! (Blue Note)
1969: Turning Point (Blue Note)
1969: Move Your Hand (Live) (Blue Note)
1970: Drives (Blue Note)
1970: Live at Club Mozambique (Live) (Released in 1995) (Blue Note)
1971: Mama Wailer (Kudu)
1975: When the Night is Right! (Chiaroscuro)
1975: Afrodesia (Groove Merchant)
1976: Keep on Lovin' (Groove Merchant)
1977: Funk Reaction
1978: Gotcha (TK)
1993: Afro Blue (Music Masters)
1994: Foxy Lady: a Tribute to Hendrix (Music Masters)
1995: Purple Haze: a tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Music Masters)
2000: The Turbanator (32 Jazz)
2003: Boogaloo to Beck: A Tribute (Scufflin')
2004: Too Damn Hot (Palmetto)
2006: Jungle Soul (Palmetto)
2009: Rise Up! (Palmetto)
2010: Spiral (Palmetto)