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Loyola New Orleans Mourns the Passing of Legendary Musician Ellis Marsalis

By Loyola University on Wed, 04/01/2020 - 23:00

Iconic jazz pianist and music educator was one of Loyola's most celebrated alumni

Loyola University New Orleans mourns the passing of iconic jazz pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, a beloved member of the Loyola family, honorary degree recipient and proud alumnus. Marsalis passed away Wednesday, April 1, at age 85, leaving behind one of the nation's most famous musical families and a tremendous legacy.

“This is a devastating blow,” said University President Tania Tetlow. “Ellis was a patriarch to all of us in New Orleans, a teacher and father figure.”

Marsalis is one of the most celebrated alumni of Loyola New Orleans’ College of Music and Media, which has 100 years of history and deep roots in the city. He received a Master of Music Education from Loyola in 1986, and in 2007, Loyola New Orleans honored Marsalis with an honorary doctorate, its highest degree, for his profound contributions to music and education.

Marsalis performed many times over the years at Loyola -- in solo performances, with his jazz quartet, with students from the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz and alongside jazz greats, such as Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, T.S. Monk, David Moran, David Torkanowsky, Leah Chase, M’75, and many others, including some of his own children. 

Sealing his tremendous legacy, Marsalis was the proud patriarch of one of the nation’s most celebrated musical families. His six children include internationally known jazz musicians Wynton, Brandford, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis, as well as two sons who did not follow him into music, Ellis III and Mboya. Son Jason Marsalis, a drummer, is also an alumnus of Loyola.

A quick trip through history – or Loyola’s website - shows Ellis Marsalis performing concerts over the years in the university’s famed performance halls and the Danna Student Center ─ even leading an ensemble of Loyola jazz students in a rousing program of classic jazz standards and iconic original compositions at the U.S. Mint.

An accomplished jazz pianist and instructor, Marsalis is often credited with shaping some of the genre’s most important new musicians, many of whom are also Loyola music alumni. He was a figurehead of the jazz music revival in New Orleans in the late 1950s and early 1960s and enjoyed a career spanning almost 70 years. After years of success playing in New Orleans clubs, Marsalis won nationwide recognition in the 1980s and 1990s when appreciation for his teaching skills led to numerous national recordings. 

Among his many honors, the legendary Marsalis was named to the Louisiana Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts honored him as an NEA Jazz Master, together with his musician sons.

Beloved throughout the world, he is the namesake of the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans’ Musicians’ Village, created in his honor after Hurricane Katrina by his son Branford and entertainer Harry Connick Jr. H’16 to provide homes for musicians and other displaced citizens, a community center with a performance hall, a recording studio, and after-school facilities for children.

"He will be deeply missed throughout the city and leaves a tremendous musical legacy," said Kern Maass, dean of the College of Music and Media. "We are honored to have known and learned from him."