NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans jazz legend's life was finally honored Sunday, more than two years after his death. Famed musician, Ellis Marsalis, died in April 2020, but a proper funeral couldn’t be held at the time. Finally, his friends, family, and fans celebrated his life.
Marsalis is considered one of the most famous jazz musicians from New Orleans. He was the patriarch of a musical family with four of his six sons following in his footsteps of a career in jazz. One of them is Wynton Marsalis.
“He was a philosophical man. He loved the culture of New Orleans. He taught so many people. It was always with love. He was really a nice man, honest man,” Wynton Marsalis said.
Ellis Marsalis was known for his brand of modern jazz as well as educating generations of musicians as a teacher.
“It was like when Ray Charles walked in the room. Everybody waiting for something to happen, but when he walks in they go, ‘oh, this is it, that’s the moment,’” said Bruce Sunpie Barnes with Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
Marsalis died of complications from COVID in April 2020 at 85 years old. Because of the pandemic, a proper funeral service couldn’t be held. Sunday, more than two years later, a private service was held followed by a public second line led by several brass bands from Gallier Hall to Congo Square.
“Today is really about doing what we couldn’t do when it happened and this is how we bury our loved ones in New Orleans and Ellis gave such a musical contribution to New Orleans and the world so this is the least we can do for him,” said Fred Johnson with the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
“He was a person who embraced the cycle of life so he didn’t encourage you to be sad about death, he believed in life after death,” Wynton Marsalis said.
The Ellis Marsalis Center for music is one way Marsalis' life is continuing to impact many lives. It serves as a performance, education, and community venue in Musicians Village.