Jerry Lee Lewis turned 85 years old on September 29th — a remarkable milestone, especially considering that Lewis was one of the hardest-living of all the original Fifties rock & roll pioneers. He suffered a serious stroke last year, but regained his ability to play the piano in time to cut a gospel album in Nashville in January. Belatedly, Lewis will celebrate his birthday with a virtual livestream event on October 27th.
Hosted by John Stamos, the event will feature performances and tributes from friends including Elton John, former President Bill Clinton, Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack, Tom Jones, Joe Walsh, and more. The event will also feature a special reunion; Lewis will gather with his famous cousins, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and country legend Mickey Gilley. The reunion will mark the first time all three cousins have been in the same room in 40 years. Swaggart, Lewis, and Gilley were all born within a 12-month span in small-town Louisiana during the Great Depression. All three became famous for very different reasons, and their intertwining journeys have been covered in numerous books and films.
After the death of Little Richard earlier this year, Lewis truly is the “Last Man Standing,” the name of his 2006 album. The artists involved in the birthday tribute have long histories with the singer; Nelson invited Lewis to sing with him at his 70th birthday party; Elton John credited Lewis and Little Richard as his piano role models in his autobiography earlier this year. “They were my real idols. It wasn’t just their style of playing, although that was fabulous …. it was the way they stood up while they played, the way they kicked the stool and jumped on the piano. They made playing the piano seem as visually exciting and sexy and outrageous as playing the guitar or being a vocalist. I’d never realized it could be any of those things before.”
The celebration will air at 8 p.m. ET on Lewis’ official Facebook and YouTube channels, plus JerryLeeLewis.com. The event will benefit World Vision, a Christian organization working to help communities lift themselves out of poverty.
When Rolling Stone joined Lewis in the studio this year, he spent two days laying down tracks with a band that included guitarists Kenny Lovelace (who has played with Lewis since 1966) and James Burton, plus Lee Ann Womack and gospel legends the McCrary Sisters on backup vocals.
In an interview around those sessions, Lewis was focused on his next goal: Getting inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “I’d like that to happen,” Lewis said. “I don’t know any reason why not. You couldn’t be any more country than I am.”