Isaac “Redd” Holt, Percussionist and Jazz Fusion Pioneer, Dies at 91

Isaac “Redd” Holt, the jazz fusion pioneer and founding member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, died on Tuesday (May 23). The Grammy-winning percussionist, songwriter, educator, humanitarian, and entrepreneur has recorded numerous albums as a sideman, bandleader, and with bassist Eldee Young. His music has been sampled more than 200 times by hip-hop artists such as De La Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. He is 91.

Born in Rosedale, Mississippi, on May 16, 1932, Holt scored his first gigs with Lester Young in the 1950s while still in high school at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music. He served in the US Army before enlisting Ramsey Lewis‘ original trio with bassist Eldee Young.

The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s high water mark was their second LP The In Crowd, which hit No. 2 on the Billboard album chart in 1965. The title track cracked the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart. The album won a Grammy in 1966 for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, and the single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009. Dizzy Gillespie later credited the Trio—which blended bebop with soul, R&B, rock, and opera—as a primarily jazz fusion.

After the album’s resounding success, Holt and Young left to form the Young-Holt Trio, which eventually became Young-Holt Unlimited. The group features a wide rotating cast of musicians, many of whom are signed to the publishing company the two founded together. The couple divorced in 1974.

Holt spent most of the 1980s releasing various collaborations and projects throughout the 1970s and 80s as Redd Holt Unlimited. He would also return to school, attending Kennedy-King College to study radio and television in the 1980s. He endorsed Ludwig drums; Company founder Bill Ludwig designed a custom drum rack to hold his congas that became the standard in drum shops around the world.

Holt released his last LP This is a Take! in 2020.

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