Isaac “Redd” Holt, who is widely celebrated as a pivotal player in the creation of jazz fusion, has died at 91. The drummer, who was also a founding member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, died on May 23.
The Grammy-winning percussionist, songwriter, educator, humanitarian, and entrepreneur recorded many, many albums as a hired player, a bandleader, and with bassist Eldee Young. According to Pitchfork, “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.”
Born in Rosedale, Mississippi, on May 16, 1932, Holt scored his first gigs with Lester Young in the 1950s while still attending high school at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music. He served a stint in the U.S. Army before joining Ramsey Lewis’ original trio alongside bassist Eldee Young–who he would eventually collaborate with for years to come.
Between 1954 and 1966, Holt was an integral member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, with which he created innovative singles “Hang on Sloopy” and “In Crowd.” He was co-founder and leader of Young-Holt Unlimited from 1966 to 1974, with which he created another hit, “Soulful Strut,” and the successful single, “Wack Wack,” which was used in the movie Harriet the Spy and various other movies and commercials.
Beginning in 1974, he served as the leader of Redd Holt Unlimited. That group featured a rotating cast of players alongside Holt, and continued the innovative soul-jazz and fusion hybrid he helped pioneer with the Lewis trio.
Holt also took jazz education and inspiring the next generation of artists very seriously, active for many years with Urban Gateways, a nonprofit organization that provides multicultural performing, visual and literary arts programs for children, teachers and parents in the Chicago area. Holt acted as an arts ambassador to school children to help improve the quality of their education by exposing them to his music and engaging them in creating, appreciating, and reflecting on his art form.