Don Lewis, pioneering electronic musician and synth creator dies aged 81
Lewis created the pre-MIDI Live Electronic Orchestra and developed the Roland TR-808 drum machine
Don Lewis, a pioneer in electronic music and music tech creation passed away on Monday (November 9), aged 81.
With over 50 years in the music industry, Lewis is most famous for making the multi-synth rig called the Live Electronic Orchestra (LEO) in the mid-70s a decade before the introduction of MIDI.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Lewis spent his younger years studying electronic engineering at the Tuskegee Institute, where he joined the Tuskegee Chorus playing music at rallies for Martin Luther King Jr..
Lewis was then enlisted into the Air Force as a Nuclear Weapons Specialist before moving to Los Angeles to become a full-time muscian.
As well as the LEO, Lewis created voices used on synthesizers including the Yamaha DX7 and worked closely with the found of Roland, Ikutarô Kakehashi.
Designing and developing rhythm units many were used on the likes of the FR-7L, CR-68, CR-78 and the iconic TR-808 drum machine.
As a musician, Lewis performed at the Sydney Opera House and collaborated with huge names from Quincy Jones to Michael Jackson.
In 1987, he launched the education-focused ‘Say Yes to Music!’ tour with the help of his wife Julie.
His life has also been made into a documentary, The Ballad of Don Lewis: The Untold Story of a Synthesizer Pioneer directed by Ned Augustenborg and set to air February 2023 on PBS.
Watch the trailer of the Don Lewis documentary below.
LL_Trailer_Vimeo.mp4 from Ned Augustenborg on Vimeo.
Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Video and Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter