In Memoriam: Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. (1934 – 2020)

Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. (November 14, 1934 – April 1, 2020) was an American jazz pianist and educator. Active since the late 1940s, Marsalis came to greater attention in the 1980s and 1990s as the patriarch of a musical family, with sons Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis rising to international acclaim.

As a leading educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana, Ellis 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 May, 2007, Marsalis received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University for his contributions to jazz and musical education.

On December 7, 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 in his honor. In 2010, The Marsalis Family released a live album titled Music Redeems which was 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 sale of the album go directly to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.

Marsalis and his sons were group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.

Marsalis was a Brother of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity, initiated into Delta Epsilon Chapter (University of Louisiana-Lafayette) in 1965. In 2015 Phi My Alpha Sinfonia announced that Marsalis has been named Sinfonia’s 24th Man of Music, the highest honor given by the fraternity to a member, for advancing the cause of music in America through performance, composition or any other musical activity.

On April 1, 2020, Marsalis passed away after being hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. He was 85.

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