John Blackwell Jr., best-known as the drummer for Prince, is dead at age 43.
He died on July 4, a year after being diagnosed with brain cancer, reports Billboard.
Blackwell's wife, Yaritza, announced his death on her husband's Instagram account, where she wrote: "My husband incredible drummer John Blackwell Jr. passed the way peacefully in my company today. Thanks God for his life and thanks everyone for their support."
She also posted an update on his condition just four days before his death. "One year ago, my husband, incredible drummer John Blackwell Jr. was diagnosed with brain tumors while in Japan playing at the Blue Note Tokyo in a featuring with top bassist Nik West," she explained. "This whole year has been very challenging not only for John, but for me also, that have to provide the care he needs, and with the help of God, you as donors, and his doctors, nurses and therapists he is still fighting hard to get better."
He grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and began playing drums at age 3, reports Drummer World. He learned the instrument from his father, John Blackwell Sr., an accomplished drummer who played with Mary Wells, King Curtis, Joe Simon, J.J. Jackson, The Drifters and many others.
“My dad always was and still is my main influence,” he said in a 2004 interview with Modern Drummer.
He attended the renowned Berklee College of Music, where he developed a serious interest in jazz. "There I got into Billy Cobham, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Philly Joe Jones. And I loved Tony Williams, from Miles to Lifetime. Tony was very melodic with the drums.”
Soon after graduating from Berklee in 1995, he landed his first major gig with the funk band Cameo. “My dad used to take me to every concert that came through our hometown in South Carolina,” he told Modern Drummer. “And Cameo was one of those groups.”
After touring for three years with Cameo, Blackwell joined Patti LaBelle's band. While touring with her, he met the legendary bassist Larry Graham, who introduced him to Prince.
He summarized his introduction to Prince:
Prince and Larry Graham, who’s been working with Prince, came out to a few shows back when I was with Patti LaBelle. One night after the show Prince came up to me and said, 'My God, you’re unbelievable. I’ll see you soon.' I thought to myself, how’s he going to see me soon? He doesn’t even have my number.
I stayed in touch with Larry, and Prince, well, he knew where to find me. He approached me when he felt it was time. One night after Patti’s show at New York’s Madison Square Garden, he came up to me and asked if I would come to Minneapolis to jam with him and Larry. At first he flew me out to jam for a day, and then two days. Over time, it would turn into a week. I was honored not only to be jamming with Prince, but with Larry Graham too. I was in heaven.
Despite being Prince's drummer for 15 years, a GoFundMe donation page was created to help pay for his medical expenses.