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Ellis Marsalis, Legendary New Orleans Jazz Pianist, Dies at 85

Ellis Marsalis
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 28: Ellis Marsalis of the Ellis Marsalis Family Band perform during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2019 50th Anniversary at Fair Grounds Race Course on April 28, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Ellis Marsalis, the legendary New Orleans jazz pianist, has died at the age of 85 from complications from coronavirus.

Marsalis is known for being the patriarch of the musical Marsalis family. His sons, Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis, are all renowned musicians.

Wynton Marsalis confirmed the news of his father’s death.

“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 Marsalis said in a statement. 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.

Marsalis was hospitalized earlier in the week due to coronavirus.

“He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a tweet. “He was a teacher, a father, and an icon — and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world. This loss cuts us deeply.”

In addition to his music career, Marsalis worked as a jazz professor at the University of New Orleans, Xavier University and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.