"He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz," New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell wrote in a tribute

By Gabrielle Chung
April 02, 2020 12:10 AM
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Credit: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Ellis Marsalis Jr., a world-renowned jazz pianist and a prominent member of the New Orleans music scene, has died at the age of 85.

The legendary musician died on Wednesday at a New Orleans hospital from complications of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), his son Brandford Marsalis told PEOPLE in a statement. Marsalis Jr. had been in the hospital since Saturday.

“It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my father, Ellis Marsalis Jr., as a result of complications from the Coronavirus,” the statement read. “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.”

Marsalis Jr’s son Wynston Marsalis wrote about his father on Twitter, tweeting, “He went out the way he lived: embracing reality.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell also paid tribute to the late musician after news of his death broke.

“Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. The love and the prayers of all of our people go out to his family, and to all of those whose lives he touched,” Cantrell wrote in a tribute on Twitter. “Ellis Marsalis was an icon — and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy & the wonder he showed the world.”

Ellis Marsalis Jr.
| Credit: Leon Morris/Redferns

“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.”

Son of social activist Ellis Marsalis Sr., Marsalis Jr. started off his musical career with the clarinet before switching to the piano.

From there, he established himself as a skilled pianist, working with the likes of jazz stars Ed Blackwell and Cannonball Adderley before landing a teaching position at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans and Xavier University of Louisiana.

As an educator, he not only taught the likes of Terence Blanchard and Harry Connick Jr., but also helped shape the musical careers of four of his six sons: Wynston, a Grammy-winning trumpeter; Brandford, a saxophonist; Delfeayo, a trombonist; and Jason, a drummer.

In 2008, Marsalis Jr. was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

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Marsalis Jr. is survived by sons Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, MBoya and Jason, his sister Yvette and 13 grandchildren. His wife, Dolores, died in 2017.

Donations can me made in the musician’s memory to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, which provides music education, academic support and food security to children from the 9th Ward.

As of Wednesday morning, there have been at least 188,247 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with 3,921 people deaths from coronavirus-related illness.

Worldwide, there are now 877,422 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 43,537 deaths.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.