Leonard “Doc” Gibbs Jr., 72, a native of Philadelphia, prolific master percussionist, inspiring teacher, longtime hand drummer of the Yoruba religion and band leader for 11 years with Food Networks Emeril Live!, died on Wednesday September 15 of cancer at his home in Salem, Ore.
Hailed as one of the finest percussionists of his generation and father of the Philadelphia drumming scene, Mr. Gibbs recorded his own music, toured the world, and played on more than 200 albums with a dynamic and diverse group of accomplished artists: Grover Washington Jr., Anita Baker , Whitney Houston, Dianne Reeves, Bob James, George Benson, Nancy Wilson, Al Jarreau, Rickie Lee Jones, Wyclef Jean, Erykah Badu, Eric Benet and others.
Young fans on television grew up with him between 1997 and 2007 when he served as music director and band leader for the popular cooking show by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
He also played with the bands Locksmith, Cosmic Lounge Orchestra and others; hosted drum workshops for youth, seniors, and the disabled in Philadelphia; and was a priest and bata hand drummer at Yoruba religious ceremonies.
He was a member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (now the Recording Academy) and had recently composed music for sound therapy treatments and meditation sessions.
In 2002 he published his only personal project, Serve it up! Name is!!!, a 13-track jazz album.
“Doc was a man of considerable calm energy,” said Aaron Graves, a jazz pianist who first played with Mr. Gibbs in 2000. “His humanity was part of his music, and that’s how you can really get a feel for who he is.”
Mr. Gibbs was more than a drummer, he mastered many percussion instruments. He played cymbals and triangles in high school and later pounded on pans, congas, string gourds, boxes, cowbells, and many other pieces.
“He played everything he could hit with his hand,” said longtime friend Tony Guggino.
On Thursday, Lagasse wrote about Mr. Gibbs on his Instagram account and posted a tribute video.
“Doc was an integral part of Emeril Live,” wrote Lagasse. “He brought the funk with him to take it up a few notches on every single show. He was an incredible percussionist and musician and an even more incredible person. “
In the video, Mr. Gibbs said, “We have a little thing between us so it’s a lot of fun.”
As a teacher, Mr. Gibbs was able to interact with people of all ages. He was approachable, open-minded, and fun to play with. “He made you feel like everything you did was okay,” said Guggino.
Strongly linked to Africa through his religion and musical heritage, Mr. Gibbs was one of the first musicians to fuse African folk music with contemporary sounds. “People are moved in subtle ways by its rhythms,” said friend and jazz bassist Gerald Veasley. “He was demanding.”
“I let the song dictate what to add for the color,” said Mr. Gibbs in a podcast interview.
In addition to his frequent personal appearances, Mr. Gibbs has launched Drums for Peace, a workshop program that aims to lead young people away from violence and towards music. “It was about promoting harmony and bringing people together,” he said on the online podcast. “We like to say ‘drums and no guns’.”
In 2015 he moved to Los Angeles (“I was sick of the cold,” he said) and in 2020 to Salem, where he married his second wife, Cathy.
“He was so easy to be with,” said Cathy Gibbs. “He was wise and giving and always approached things with an open heart.”
Born in Philadelphia on November 8, 1948, Mr. Gibbs became interested in drums as a child after playing them at parades in the neighborhood. He joined the brass band and orchestra at West Philadelphia High School, but was so talented as a painter and sculptor that he spent two years after high school at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
But he couldn’t escape the lure of music. “The drumming caught me,” he said on the podcast. “I was bitten by this bug.”
He played in local bands for a while, then studied with New York drummer Ralph MacDonald. In 1975 he met the smooth jazz superstar saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. at Carnegie Hall, played for him in Philadelphia at the Just Jazz Club and was hired as an anchor for Washington’s backup band until 1977.
“Touring and recording with Grover was like studying,” he said in an online interview. He played with many artists, highlighted by 15 years and 10 albums with jazz keyboardist Bob James.
Washington gave Mr. Gibbs his nickname. During the 1977 recording of Live in the jewel in Philadelphia, Washington caught a bad cold and Mr. Gibbs gave him herbal tea which made him feel better.
The next day, a basketball fanatic Washington told the audience that Philadelphia now had two doctors. “DR. J,” he said, referring to the 76ers star Julius Erving, “and Dr. Gibbs.” The name stayed, as did his enthusiasm for music and his audience.
“It could light up a room,” said Veasley. “He had a great mind.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Gibbs leaves behind his daughter Ayoola; Son Ade; two grandchildren; a sister; and a brother. His former wife Barbara Lee previously died.
Services were held in Salem on September 22nd.