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Don Lewis

Electronic Music Pioneer Don Lewis, Dead At 81

Don Lewis
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PLEASANTON, CA (CelebrityAccess) — Don Lewis, the pioneering multi-instrumentalist who helped to create some of the earliest integrated electronic musical instruments, died Nov. 6 at his home in Pleasanton, Calif. He was 81.

His wife, Julie Tucker Lewis, shared the news of his passing via social media on December 6th, stating that he died from an unspecified but aggressive form of cancer.

“Although Don was routinely receiving medical care, it was missed that he had an aggressive form of cancer until 5 months ago. When discovered it could not be treated,” she wrote.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Lewis took up the piano at a young age but studied electrical engineering at Tuskegee Institute, while also performing as a musician at rallies by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“My interest in playing the organ was piqued by a young man playing at our church — I sat behind him and watched him play,” Lewis told the Pleasanton Weekly in a 2016 interview. “One evening I went to sleep and had a dream that I was sitting there playing the organ. The feeling I had in that dream, I had never felt anything like it.”

After graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force as a nuclear weapons specialist and landed a job as an engineering technician in Denver after he completed his military service.

While working as an engineer, he moonlighted as a musician, performing in local nightclubs, as well as with a church choir, where he served as director. While there, he was commissioned to write three symphonic works by the Denver Symphony Orchestra and later resigned from his engineering career to work full time as a musician.

In the early 1970s, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he performed with musicians such as Quincy Jones, The Beach Boys, Sergio Mendez, and Michael Jackson, among others.

In 1974, Lewis designed the Live Electronic Orchestra, which allowed multiple synthesized to be controlled by one device, serving as in inspiration for modern MIDI controllers. He also collaborated with Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi to develop numerous electronic instruments, including the seminal Roland TR-808 that provided the sounds for early electronic dance music.

Roland also turned his attention to education, teaching at UC Berkeley Extension and participated in music technology seminars at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and San Jose State University.

His career was the subject of the documentary film “The Ballad of Don Lewis.”

Don Lewis Memorial events are being planned for mid to late 2023 and will be announced in time.

Charitable contributions in Don’s memory may be made to:
“Don Lewis Music Scholarship”
Send check payable to: Rotary Club of Pleasanton Foundation,
P.O. Box 352, Pleasanton, CA 94566
Memo: Don Lewis Music Scholarship

QUEST SCIENCE CENTER in honor of Don Lewis . The Don Lewis Memorial Fund will support STEAM education programs for students and the Quest high school intern program.
Youth Education, Title 1 Program

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