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Black History Month

History-makers of Southeast Louisiana

Ellis Marsalis, Jr.

Ellis Marsalis, Jr.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons


Jazz pianist and music professor Ellis Marsalis, Jr., was born in New Orleans in 1934. As a teen, he studied the clarinet at Xavier University's Junior School of Music, a prep course for the university. He learned tenor saxophone so he could play Rhythm & Blues. While still in high school, he began studying piano. In 1955, he graduated with B.A. degree in music education from Dillard University. For the next year, he played with the American Jazz Quintet, with Alvin Batiste, tenor saxophonist Harold Battiste, Ed Blackwell on drums, and Richard Payne on bass. The group struggled to find work in New Orleans, but they kept going.

Marsalis was drafted in 1957 and joined the Marine Corps for a two-year stint in southern California. While there, he played piano for a weekly CBS television show, the Marine-sponsored "Dress Blues," and a radio show called "Leather Songbook." After his military service, Marsalis returned home to New Orleans and married Delores Ferdinand. They had six sons. Four of them are accomplished musicians: Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason.

In 1974, Marsalis joined the faculty at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts High School (NOCCA), where he taught for the next twelve years. There, he helped develop the talent of countless musicians, including trumpeter Terence Blanchard, pianist Harry Connick, Jr., saxophonist Donald Harrison, and his four musician sons. From 1986 to 1989, he taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was the coordinator of Jazz Studies. In 1989, Marsalis received an Honorary Doctorate degree from his alma mater, Dillard University, and joined the faculty of the University of New Orleans. He served as Director of Jazz Studies until his retirement in 2001.

Marsalis received honorary degrees from Tulane University (2007), The Juilliard School, Ball State and Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010. Marsalis has served as panelist, grant evaluator and board member for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Southern Arts Federation. On December 7, 2008, Marsalis was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.


The items listed below are available for you at Sims Memorial Library.