Music is mourning the loss of a giant following the passing of New Orleans jazz legend Ellis Marsalis Jr., who passed away Wednesday due to complications from COVID-19. Marsalis was 85.
His son Branford Marsalis confirmed the news to The New York Times, telling the publication, “My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father. He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be.”
Marsalis was known throughout New Orleans, having spent decades as a teacher and musician in the city. He rose to fame alongside his sons, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, in the mid to late 80s amid a revival of traditional jazz.
In 2008, Marsalis was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. And in 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts named him and his sons N.E.A. Jazz Masters, the highest honor for American jazz musicians. For decades, the musician was a regular at New Orleans jazz club Snug Harbor.
The jazz legend also taught other musicians whose careers later gained national attention including Harry Connick Jr., Donald Harrison Jr., Nicholas Payton, and Terence Blanchard.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans tweeted Wednesday night, “Ellis Marsalis was a legend. 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.”
Grammy-winner John Legend also tweeted his condolences, writing, “Sending love to the Marsalis family. Condolences to them and all of those who loved Ellis Marsalis. He was the patriarch of such an influential musical family. Thank you, Ellis Marsalis.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with Marsalis’s family and friends.