Velbert Lewis, known to most as simply “Vel” or “Shady Grady” can be found listed on many popular recordings and well-known TV shows such as The Sopranos, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Mad About You, and Wife Swap USA, all of which feature music he composed. Along with composing his own music, he is an accomplished singer, producer, arranger, and Hammond ® organist, who also plays piano and drums. Vel’s latest single, “Maybe So” is his new Groove Jazz instrumental that grabbed the number #1 spot on CD Baby’s “Top Songs – Jazz – Hammond Organ” chart, and the number #4 spot on their “Top Songs Jazz – Smooth Jazz” chart, all within three (3) weeks of its release.
His music reminds you of what it was intended to be for the listener… an experience. Though his history is varied, it has served him well with roots that extend from a youth filled with traditional, classical and popular music training.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his career began with the Philadelphia All Boys Choir, performing as a soloist at Expo ’67 in Montreal, Canada, while attending Settlement Music School where he had vocal, piano, and concert flute training. Within two years, he added the organ to his repertoire.
By the 70’s, he had joined a vocal group, The Futures, and recorded the single “Breaking Up” on the AMJO record label out of Philadelphia. However, as he continued his training at Overbrook High School, he was asked to perform on a televised PBS jazz program with his classmates, drummer Gerry Brown (Stanley Clarke's "School Days") and bassist John Lee (Dizzy Gillespie's band), from the school’s jazz band along with the show’s producer, Mr. Ira Tucker, Jr.
It was the coup de grace; the show led to Lewis becoming a studio session musician with Peacock Records (a division of ABC Records), and producer Ira Tucker, Sr., lead singer of The Dixie Hummingbirds. Vel recorded Hammond organ with The Gospelaires of Ohio, The Sensational Nightingales, The Five Blind Boys, and on Paul Simon’s “Love Me Like A Rock” and Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America”, both with The Dixie Hummingbirds, while garnering a recording contract with The Futures from Philadelphia International Records, a division of Columbia Records. The next single, “Love Is Here” by The Futures was on Gamble Records. There was a whirlwind of activity between recording sessions and concerts with the likes of Frankie Beverly and Maze, The O’Jays, Grover Washington, The Spinners, The Whispers, and The Supremes.
It didn’t take much time before The Futures’ band became known as The Life Group and began playing with The Delfonics, performing such hits as “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”, “When You Get Right Down To It”, and “La, La, Means I Love You”. Lewis had become an A-List musician, performing on shows with such celebrities as Earth, Wind, & Fire, Parliament/Funkadelic, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks.
Fortunately, Lewis was not one to be limited, as he co-wrote the Delfonics’ hit song, “I Told You So” with William Hart and co-wrote The Life Group’s successful single, “Tell Me Why”. Lewis continued to work throughout the industry as a member of The Life Group until the band’s last performance in Los Angeles during the early 80’s with Phyllis Hyman, Stevie Wonder, Mandrill and numerous other guest stars.
Lewis went on to work on even bigger and better things. He co-produced original music with Tom Borton and former RCA executive Ed Martinez for Chrysler/Plymouth Motors Super Bowl commercials featuring Tina Turner. Lewis continued into the 90’s co-writing and co-producing on Borton’s three-album deal with Mesa/Bluemoon Records.
Never a stranger to the road, Lewis continued to perform at places like the Indianapolis Jazz Festival with Dan Siegel and Boney James, in addition to performing with Ms. Dionne Warwick on her World Tour for three years.
Since the release of “Keepin’ It Mellow”, a compilation CD released in 2007 containing a song from Vel’s “All Wound Up” CD entitled “Let It Ride” which became the number #1 Most Played Single in the U.K., Vel Lewis has been busy in his new home city of Atlanta, GA producing new material for his upcoming album, and performing on recording sessions for new artists.