Legendary Jazz Pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr. Dead at 85

Illustration for article titled Legendary Jazz Pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr. Dead at 85
Photo: AP Photo (Sophia Germer)

Ellis Marsalis Jr., legendary jazz musician, educator and patriarch of the Marsalis family, has died at the age of 85.

After being admitted to the hospital over the weekend with symptoms of pneumonia, the New York Times reports that the cause of death was from complications associated with the coronavirus.

On her Twitter account, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell expressed her condolences.


“Ellis Marsalis was a legend,” she tweeted. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. The love and the prayers of all of our people go out to his family, and to all of those whose lives he touched.”


Born in 1934, Marsalis worked as a musician and teacher for decades, playing alongside distinguished musicians like Cannonball Adderley and Ed Blackwell while developing the next generation of jazz elite, such as Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison.

In the 1980s, his eldest sons, Wynton and Branford, rose to prominence, “embodying a fresh-faced revival of traditional jazz,” according to the Times.


Despite his age, Marsalis remained active in the jazz community, spending the last few decades playing weekly gigs at the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro in New Orleans up until retiring earlier this year.


He was also inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008, and a year later, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans was named in his honor.

“My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father,” Branford said in the statement. “He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be. And to quote my friend and Harvard Law professor David Wilkins, who just sent me the following text, ‘We can all marvel at the sheer audacity of a man who believed he could teach his black boys to be excellent in a world that denied that very possibility, and then watch them go on to redefine what excellence means for all time.”


He is survived by his sons Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason; each accomplished musicians, in addition to two other non-musician sons, Mboya and Ellis III; as well as 13 grandchildren and his sister, Yvette. His wife of 58 years, Dolores, died in 2017.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.

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Until about 2 years ago me and my dad always used to listen to him play christmas music at his jazz club in New Orleans during the holidays. His sons were usually around too and they’re crazy talented as well.