Mother of jazz legend Wynton Marsalis dies at 80

Wynton Marsalis
Photo credit: lev radin /

The family matriarch of perhaps one of the greatest New Orleans jazz families died this week at the age of 80. Dolores Ferdinand Marsalis died of pancreatic cancer after a long battle, according to her jazz pianist husband Ellis Marsalis.

Dolores Marsalis was the mother of sons Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo , Mboya Kinyatta and Jason, four of whom are jazz musicians.

According to media outlet, Ellis Marsalis stated that his wife was born in New Orleans and attended St. Mary’s Academy high school and Grambling State University where she studied home economics. The couple met at Lincoln Beach in 1956 when they were attending a Dinah Washington concert with friends. Soon thereafter the pair hit it off and according to Ellis, “She really liked music. I didn’t know many girls who liked jazz at that time.”

He also stated during an interview in 2014 that he credited his wife’s side of the family for the incredible musical roots talent of the Marsalis children. While being interviewed for the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” by noted historian Henry Louis Gates, Ellis stated, “A lot of people think it came from my side, which it did not,” he said. “There was nobody on my side of the family that I ever heard of that performed or even sang; didn’t even sing in church. Now on Dolores’ side, there were several musicians, lots of them.”

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