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Ellis Marsalis Jr.
*Ellis Marsalis Jr. was born on this date in 1934. He was a Black jazz pianist and educator.
Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Florence (née Robertson) and Ellis Marsalis, Sr., a businessman and social activist. One of his first music teachers was Geneva Southhall. As a musician, Marsalis started as a tenor saxophonist, switching to the piano while in high school. From his first professional performance with "The Groovy Boys" over fifty years ago, Ellis Marsalis has been a major influence in jazz. At that time, Marsalis was one of the few New Orleans musicians who did not specialize in Dixieland or rhythm and blues.
He played with fellow modernists, including Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, and Al Hirt, becoming one of the most respected pianists in jazz. Though he has recorded almost twenty of his albums and was featured on many discs with such jazz greats as David “Fathead” Newman, Eddie Harris, Marcus Roberts, and Courtney Pine, he shunned the spotlight to focus on teaching.
He and his wife, Delores Ferdinand, had six sons: Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis III, Delfeayo Marsalis, Mboya Kinyatta Marsalis, and Jason Marsalis. Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason are also jazz musicians. Ellis is a poet, photographer, and network engineer based in Baltimore.
His didactic approach, combined with an interest in philosophy, encourages his students to make discoveries in music independently through experiments and carefully listening. Active since the late 1940s, Marsalis came to greater attention in the 1980s and '90s as the patriarch of a musical family that was rising to international acclaim. As a leading educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans, and the Xavier University of Louisiana, he has influenced the careers of countless musicians, including Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., Nicholas Payton, as well as his four musician sons: Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason.
In 2007, Marsalis received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University for his contributions to jazz and musical education. 2008, Ellis Marsalis was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music at Musicians' Village in New Orleans is named to honor him. In 2010, The Marsalis Family released a live album titled Music Redeems, recorded at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, as part of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. All proceeds from the album's sale go directly to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. Ellis Marsalis Jr. and his sons are group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award. He can usually be seen performing on Fridays at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro in New Orleans.
On April 1, 2020, Ellis Marsalis, jazz pianist, teacher, and patriarch of a New Orleans musical family, died. He was 85.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Campbell announced Marsalis' death in a news release Wednesday night. Ellis Marsalis III confirmed to the Associated Press that the new coronavirus sparked his father's death. "Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19.”