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. Listening to his latest solo release "Maybe So", you cannot only hear his experience of over 40 years as a professional performer, but you will also hear the depth and warmth of live musicianship reborn. Along with composing his own music, he is an accomplished singer, producer, arranger, and Hammond ® organist, who also plays piano and drums.
Vel’s last single, “Vitamin D” is a hot, instrumental track that grabbed the number #1 spot on CD Baby’s “Top Songs – Urban R&B/Funk” chart, and the number #2 spot on their “Top Songs Jazz – Smooth Jazz” chart, all within thirty (30) days from its release. Though his history is varied, it has served him well with roots that extend from a youth filled with traditional, classical and popular training.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his career began in 1965 with the Philadelphia All Boys Choir in conjunction with attending Settlement Music School, where he had vocal and piano training as well as concert flute. Within two years, he’d added the organ to his repertoire.
By the 70’s, he’d joined a vocal group, The Futures, and recorded the single “Breaking Up” on the AMJO record label out of Philadelphia. However, while continuing his training at Overbrook High School, he was asked to perform on a televised jazz program with his classmates, drummer Gerry Brown and bassist John Lee, from the school’s jazz band by the show’s producer, Mr. Ira Tucker, Jr.
It was the coup de grâce, the show led to Vel becoming a studio session musician for Peacock Records (a division of ABC Records) recording with Mr. Ira Tucker, Sr. of The Dixie Hummingbirds, and garnering a recording contract with The Futures from Phila. International Records. The Futures' next single, “Love Is Here” was on Gamble Records. There was a whirlwind of activity between recording sessions and concert tours 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”. Vel had become an A-List musician continuing to perform concert tours on stage with such celebrities as Earth, Wind, & Fire, Buddy Miles, Parliament/Funkadelic, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks.
Fortunately, Vel was not one to be limited, so he co-wrote the Delfonics last hit, “I Told You So” with William Hart as well as The Life Group’s successful single, “Tell Me Why”. Vel 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.
After moving on from The Life Group, Vel Lewis went on to work on even bigger and better things. He co-produced original music with Tom Borton and Ed Martinez for Chrysler/Plymouth Motors, Inc.’s Superbowl commercials featuring Tina Turner. Vel continued into the 90’s co-writing and co-producing on Borton’s three-album deal ("Dancing with Tigers", "The Lost World", and "Moxo Shriek") with Mesa/Bluemoon Records. As a songwriter with LA Post Music, he wrote even more music for television broadcasts.
Never a stranger to the road, Vel continued to perform at places like the Indianapolis Jazz Festival with Dan Siegal and Boney James, in addition to working on Dionne Warwick’s 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 has been busy in his home city of Atlanta, GA producing new material for his upcoming album, and performing on recording sessions.