Ellis Marsalis Jr., Legendary Jazz Musician, Dead at 85 From Coronavirus Complications

Legendary New Orleans jazz musician Ellis Marsalis Jr. has died due to complications of coronavirus. Marsalis passed away Wednesday at the age of 85 after having been admitted to the hospital on Saturday, his son, Branford Marsalis, confirmed in a statement.

"It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my father, Ellis Marsalis Jr., as a result of complications from the Coronavirus. He was admitted to the hospital on Saturday and died peacefully this evening," Branford announced. "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. 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.'"

Speaking with the Associated Press, Marsalis' other son, Ellis Marsalis III, confirmed that "pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19." He added that he drove Sunday from Baltimore to Louisiana to be with his father, who had been hospitalized just a day prior.

Born in the Crescent City in 1934, Marsalis studied at the Xavier Junior School of Music and took up the clarinet at 11 years old. At the age of 13, he played the tenor saxophone in his first professional gig with the Groovy Boys, according to WDSU News. He would go on to teach generations of musicians in his hometown, become the first chair of jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans in 1989, and pass down his musical talents to four of his six sons. In January, he had ended a three-decade run at New Orleans' Snug Harbor on Frenchman Street, USA Today reports.


Following news of his passing, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell paid tribute to him with a statement shared to Twitter.

"Ellis Marsalis was an icon — and words aren't sufficient to describe the art, the joy & the wonder he showed the world," she continued in a second tweet. "May we wrap his family in our love & our gratitude, & may we honor his memory by coming together in spirit— even as the outbreak keeps us apart, for a time."