Jazz legend Ellis Marsalis has died after contracting coronavirus. He was 85.
The renowned pianist and educator passed away last night (April 1) in his native New Orleans after battling pneumonia as well as the disease, COVID-19. Marsalis, who is survived by six sons, four of whom became noted musicians, has been consecrated as the patriarch of jazz music’s “First Family.”
The “Sweet Lorraine” crooner’s musical clan include trumpeter Wynton, saxophonist Branford, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason.
“Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19,” son and photographer Ellis Marsalis III confirmed to the Associated Press. Evidently, Ellis made the drive from Baltimore to be by his father’s side this past Saturday after the jazz icon was admitted to a hospital in Louisiana, which has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Branf told the outlet. Wynton, celebrating his father’s memory with photos, tweeted, “He went out the way he lived: embracing reality.”
Celebrities have also taken to social media to mourn Marsalis’ passing. “Sending love to the Marsalis family,” tweeted John Legend. “He was the patriarch of such an influential musical family.”
“Ellis Marsalis was a true legend,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook. “In his music, his passion for New Orleans and his steadfast dedication to education, he showed us all the power of community. He’ll be missed dearly.”
After serving in the Marine Corps in the 1950s, Marsalis began playing weekly televised gigs in Los Angeles before returning to New Orleans. In his advent, Marsalis brought jazz to popularity at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Snug Harbor, and the Southern Repertory Theater.
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Photo: Getty Images