Lauded keyboardist Dr. Lonnie Smith, whose work on the Hammond B3 organ spanned seven decades, has died of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 79.

Smith’s history is intertwined with that of Blue Note Records, where he got his start in the mid-1960s. His career came full circle in 2016 when he returned to the label that gave him his start for his final three albums with Blue Note.

“Doc was a musical genius who possessed a deep, funky groove and a wry, playful spirit,” Blue Note President Don Was said in a statement. “His mastery of the drawbars was equaled only by the warmth in his heart. He was a beautiful guy and all of us at Blue Note Records loved him a lot.”

Born in Buffalo, NY on July 3rd, 1942, Smith took his early musical inspiration from his mother, who introduced him to gospel, jazz, and blues. After discovering the Hammond organ as a teenager, Smith’s first gigs came at the Pine Grill in Buffalo before he linking with Lou Donaldson, Jack McDuff, and George Benson, joining Benson’s quartet and moving to New York City.

Smith appeared on Benson’s albums It’s Uptown and The George Benson Cookbook prior to releasing his debut album, Finger Lickin’ Good, on Columbia in 1967. He would go on to join the Blue Note family later that year when he joined up with saxophonist Lou Donaldson for Alligator Boogaloo. After cutting two more records with Donaldson—Mr. Shing-A-Ling and Midnight Creeper—Smith made his solo debut at Blue Note with Think! in 1968.

The organist went on to release four more Blue Note albums over the next two years (Turning Point, Move Your Hand, Drives, and Live at Club Mozambique), all of which have stood up as jazz classics and found a second life as samples in songs by A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, and more.

“It’s an extension of my being,” Smith once said about the organ. “It’s a part of my lens. It breathes for me. It speaks for me. I feel every bit of the organ. It’s like electricity—a fire that goes through my body. You can feel it vibrate. There’s nothing like it. It lifts me up, it crawls through the pores of the room.”

Smith racked up a trove of awards in his decorated career, including honors from the Jazz Journalists Association, Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, and being named an NEA Jazz Master in 2017. After nearly half a century away, he returned to Blue Note in 2016 to release Evolution. Another album, All In My Mind, followed in 2018 prior to his final release, Breathe, which arrived just earlier this year. The latter two albums feature live cuts recorded during Smith’s 75th birthday celebration at the Jazz Standard in New York in 2017.

“Blue Note is like family,” Smith said upon his return to the label. “It’s like I never left. Everybody is great to work with. They give me the opportunity to play my life, to tell my story.”

Rest in peace, Dr. Lonnie Smith. Revisit some of his highlights from Blue Note Records with this playlist from the label.

Dr. Lonnie Smith: The Finest (Playlist)