After dedicating most of his life to his music, prolific drummer and former Prince collaborator John Blackwell Jr. died Tuesday at the age of 43.
Blackwell’s wife, Yaritza, confirmed the news on Blackwell’s Instagram account, sharing a photo that appears to show her holding his hand. “My husband incredible drummer John Blackwell Jr. passed [away] peacefully in my company today,” she captioned the photo. “Thanks God for his life and thanks everyone for their support.”
Last week, she logged into the same profile to thank fans and friends for their support one year after Blackwell had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Blackwell’s diagnosis affected the use of his left arm and leg, leading him to seek rehabilitation services at a Tampa, Florida hospital in the summer of 2016. A GoFundMe page was set up to help his family cover medical costs while he was unable to continue work as a musician.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Blackwell took up drumming during his childhood, eventually attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he honed his skills with local jazz musicians before landing a gig working with R&B diva Patti LaBelle in the late ’90s. He then joined Prince’s band, The New Power Generation, in 2000, and worked with the late music legend for 15 years.
Blackwell also collaborated with Justin Timberlake, D’Angelo, and one of Japan’s best-selling female artists of all time, Utada Hikaru.
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Several industry figures paid tribute to Blackwell on Tuesday, as news of his death spread.
“#Prince just got his favorite drummer back and I know John is killing that groove up there. 😞💜#RipJohnBlackwell,” bassist Nik West, whom Blackwell has also performed with over the years, wrote on Instagram. In a separate post, West added: “THE EPITOME of a heart of gold. A goat in the drummer world. A brother to me. A sidekick on stage to me. A happy person. Pleased by the simple things in life.”
“We lost our friend & amazing Drummer, Mr. John Blackwell. Send up yr prayer’s & love vibes for his family & friends,” Bootsy Collins wrote on Facebook. “Man he was doing better just last week we thought. Leave yr thoughts & comments & I will forward to his Wife “Yaritza”. R.I.P. Good brother…”
“We lost another brother… John Blackwell made his transition today!!!” wrote Morris Day, who also worked with Prince. “Our prayers go out to his wife and family!”
Blink-182’s Travis Barker also remembered the late percussionist on social media, tweeting: “Rest In Peace
#JohnBlackwell Your legend will live 4ever. One of the best to ever pick up drumsticks. Prayers to family and friends.”
See more tributes below.
#JohnBlackwell legendary drummer for #Prince- THE EPITOME of a heart of gold. A goat in the drummer world. A brother to me. A sidekick on stage to me. A happy person. Pleased by the simple things in life. Food Connoisseur. GROOVE MASTER. NONE LIKE HIM. He passed away today. Exactly one year ago, while on tour together in Japan, we found out he had a tumor. This has left yet another hole in my heart. Today he joins his mother, father, daughter, and Prince (his mentor and the person that was like father to him when his own father passed) in heaven. I'm sending prayers to his wife and everyone else he leaves behind today. I visited him while in the hospital and he opened his eyes and held his drumsticks… I had faith he would get well. But now he has no pain. Please allow a moment of silence for JOHN BLACKWELL! 💜😞#notahappy4thofjuly #alloftheseholes