Carl Eric Lewis, attorney, judge, and musician, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on January 29, 1952. He attended Moody High School and achieved distinction for his athletic accomplishments, including All-District honors and credit for scoring the first touchdown for the school’s football team. Upon graduation, he attended Yale University, where he also played football and earned All-Ivy League honors. He received a B.A. in English and eventually attended the University of Texas School of Law and graduated in 1979.
In Corpus Christi, Lewis worked in public service as an assistant city attorney and an assistant county attorney. He also worked in the firm of Tinker, Tor & Lewis as a criminal defense lawyer. In 1992 Lewis was elected Nueces County attorney. He was subsequently appointed and then eventually elected as judge of the County Court at Law No. 5 in Nueces County in 1999. During his professional career, Lewis was known as a strong advocate for children’s rights. As a judge, he presided over numerous juvenile cases that dealt with child abuse and neglect, gang violence, and custody issues. At some point, he married and had two children.
In 1994 Lewis was asked to help out with a talent show fundraiser for the Women’s Shelter of South Texas. The musically-inclined Lewis put together a group largely made up of fellow lawyer musicians to perform at the event. Thus began the band Carl Lewis and the Deadbeats. Lewis, the frontman, sang vocals and played harmonica. Founding members included David Bright (guitar), Tyner Little (guitar), and Mike Gilmore (drums). Other performers included Jim Lago and Rey Martinez (saxophone), Doug Adams (bass), Mike Ser (keyboards), and David Marroquín (drums). Lewis’s son Ben and Bright’s son Austin also later played with the band.
What started as a one-time performance, evolved into almost fifteen years of community service through musical gigs. After their initial show, the founding band members agreed to meet for weekly rehearsals and jam sessions. Soon, they were asked to play for another charity event. Eventually, Carl Lewis and the Deadbeats performed approximately twenty to twenty-five shows a year. The gigs were all played free of charge to help raise money for charitable organizations. The group performed primarily blues, which included covers of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Howlin’ Wolf, and Willie Dixon, but Lewis also wrote several numbers of his own, with guitarist Tyner Little.
The group performed at charity functions throughout the Coastal Bend area and South Texas and gained the reputation as blues-loving lawyers who used their talents to help out numerous nonprofit organizations. According to guitarist/attorney David Bright: “The vision was Carl’s to form a blues group that followed their hearts and don’t give two hoots about selling records and tee shirts or making nice with corporate sponsors. Instead, the band would play what we wanted, the music we loved and focus on playing fundraisers for worthy causes.”
Their shows included functions for Incarnate Word Academy, the NAACP, Coastal Bend Brothers and Sisters, YMCA, March of Dimes, and a Court Appointed Special Advocates event. In 2004 Carl Lewis and the Deadbeats opened for country singer and former Corpus Christi resident Don Williams at a scholarship fundraiser for Del Mar College. In 2006 Lewis was honored with the Cecil E. Burney Humanitarian Award given by the Corpus Christi Bar Association for his “community service performed outside his…professional life.”
Lewis was also quite active in other civic affairs. He served on the boards of YMCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Coastal Bend, and the Molina-Greenwood Nursery School. He was also instrumental in introducing Adoption Day in Nueces County in 2004—an event designed to celebrate the adoptions of foster parents and children.
Carl Lewis died suddenly on October 25, 2008, of complications from respiratory distress. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral at Corpus Christi Cathedral. He was survived by his mother, June Lewis, son Benjamin, and daughter Hayden Summer.
Initially the music group, having lost their frontman, decided to disband. Shortly afterward, they reconsidered and chose to continue performing as the Deadbeats. They added Kristine Stevenson as lead vocalist. In February 2009 the Deadbeats performed at a benefit concert at Del Mar College. The event, titled “A Musical Tribute to Carl Lewis,” earned proceeds for a new Carl Lewis Memorial Scholarship for the college’s music department. Carl Lewis and the Deadbeats were inducted into the South Texas Music Walk of Fame in 2009.