Wynton Marsalis was born on October 18, 1961 and raised in Kenner, Louisiana. Located on the outskirts of New Orleans, it was a rural place with little connection to the cultural hub that lay just outside it. And mirroring the South at large, the town was segregated— the white residents inhabiting one side of the train tracks, the Black residents the other.
Dolores Marsalis by Marsalis FamilyWynton Marsalis
The Marsalis Matriarch
Wynton's mother, Dolores, was born in 1937. "My mother put a tremendous investment of her time in our development. She took us to music camps, taught us the importance of culture, gave us books to read. She had a powerful influence," says Wynton.
Ellis Marsalis II
Growing up, Wynton's father, Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr., was the musical helm of the family. Ellis made his living as a gigging pianist around New Orleans.
Wynton’s father supported the family as a working musician around New Orleans. Though his shows were often sparsely attended, Ellis’s reputation preceded him as an extremely talented jazz musician with an exceptional ear and understanding for the music. Wynton, among many of his other siblings, would begin to play music under Ellis’s encouragement and tutelage.
Wynton, age 1
Wynton is the second of six sons born to Dolores and Ellis Marsalis. Branford is the oldest Marsalis brother. Following Wynton are his brothers Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya and Jason.
Wynton was given his first trumpet at age 6 by family friend Al Hirt. He promptly started playing in the Fairview Baptist Church Band under the direction of jazz legends Danny Barker and Charles Barbarin, as well as soon-to-be New Orleans greats Leroy Jones, Shannon Powell, Herlin Riley, and Lucien Barbarin, among others. Although he was involved with Fairview Baptist, it wasn't until the age of 12 that Wynton's drive and commitment to his musicianship began to emerge. This dedication to his instrument would become the crux of his methodology.
Wynton and the Fairview Baptist Church Band (Circa 1968) by UnknownWynton Marsalis
The Fairview Baptist Church Band
Wynton was given his first trumpet at age 6 by family friend Al Hirt.
...He promptly started playing in the Fairview Baptist Church Band under the direction of jazz legends Danny Barker and Charles Barbarin, as well as soon-to-be New Orleans greats Leroy Jones, Shannon Powell, Herlin Riley, and Lucien Barbarin, among others.
... Although he was involved with Fairview Baptist, it wasn't until the age of 12 that Wynton's drive and commitment to his musicianship began to emerge. This dedication to his instrument would become the crux of his methodology.
Once Wynton started seriously practicing his instrument, he was accepted into a number of local yet prestigious musical groups: the New Orleans Philharmonic, the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, the New Orleans Community Concert Band, the New Orleans Youth Orchestra, and the New Orleans Symphony.
A new generation of talent (1977) by UnknownWynton Marsalis
A new generation of talent
The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA)* opened the doors for New Orleans youth to explore their artistry on a new level.
Wynton (sitting second from right with trumpet) poses with his NOCCA classmates, including his brother Branford (standing second from left with saxophone) and Donald Harrison (sitting center with saxophone).
They stand on a rooftop with the Loyola University of New Orleans campus behind them. Their t-shirts feature a "NOCCA" logo and "Festival '77" below it.
By the time he was a young teenager, Wynton was following in Ellis’s footsteps as a gigging musician around New Orleans. His tenacity for music was widespread: he was picking up work playing everything from dances to sets in bars and jazz clubs, and funk shows with his group the Creators. On occasion, Ellis was known to fill in on piano, getting down with the funk alongside Wynton.
Wynton and Terence (1975/1978) by UnknownWynton Marsalis
A special performance (Circa 1975-1978) by UnknownWynton Marsalis
A special performance
Wynton was in good company while studying at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
Here we catch a glimpse of Wynton playing alongside jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard (front left). The two were asked to give a special showcase performance for the newly appointed board members at NOCCA.
From 1974-1986, Ellis led the jazz program at NOCCA; brothers Wynton and Branford were among his pupils. Part of what set Ellis apart as a musician in New Orleans was his unwavering dedication to passing on what knowledge he had to young artists. Although his celebrity was not in the same category as other legendary players, this didn't affect his love of teaching and encouraging students. As an adult, Wynton would apply these same principles to his own educational pedagogy.
Wynton attended Ben Franklin High School while training at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. This is his graduating photo. He would soon leave New Orleans and head to New York City.
* NOTE: NOCCA opened its doors in 1974, offering classes in music, drama, and visual art to high schoolers in borrowed spaces at other institutions. Back then, NOCCA was a half-day program: students took academic classes at their "regular" school, then transferred to NOCCA for arts classes in the afternoon. Nearly 50 years later, NOCCA has a world-class campus all its own, and it offers full-day, half-day, and afterschool classes in 11 arts disciplines as well as academics.
Curated by Julia Engel. Wynton Marsalis Enterprises, Inc.