A jazz clarinetist who achieved his greatest fame and influence in his later decades of life, George Louis Francis Zeno, was born in 1900 in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Lewis was playing clarinet professionally by 1917. He played with Buddie Petit, Chris Kelly regularly, and sometimes with Kid Ory and many other band leaders, seldom traveling far from the greater New Orleans area. He had his own band for awhile The New Orleans Stompers.
During the Great Depression he took a day job as a stevedore, continuing to take such music jobs after hours as he could find. In 1942 some jazz fans and writers came to New Orleans to record the legendary older trumpeter Bunk Johnson, and Bunk picked Lewis for the recording session