Jimmy McGriff, a venerable jazz and blues organist, died May 24 in Voorhees N.J. He was 72. His death was caused by complications of multiple sclerosis.
Born April 3, 1936 in Philadelphia, McGriff grew up with a pianist father, in an environment known as the jazz organ mecca of the 1950s and ’60’s. His principle instruments were the saxophone and bass, but he settled on the Hammond organ with the encouragement of his father. Before delving into music fulltime, McGriff spent time as military policemen during the Korean War, returning to Philadelphia to join the police force for two years.
His formal musical instruction began at Juilliard and the Combe College of Music in Philadelphia, jumpstarting his career, which included working with saxophonist Hank Crawford, Buddy Rich and legendary organist Richard Holmes. His first hit, “I’ve Got a Woman,” originally recorded by Ray Charles, led to a full album released on Sue Records, which produced his second hit, “All About My Girl.” During the ’60s and the ’70s, he continued to record and tour, opening his own club in Newark, NJ. His last album, released in 2006, was a live album recorded at the Manhattan jazz club.
He is survived by his wife Margaret; a daughter, Holiday Hankerson and a son, Donald Kelly; his mother, Beatrice McGriff; two sisters, Jean Clark and Beatrice Evans; a brother, Henry McGriff; and three grandchildren.