John Blackwell, Jr., the drummer for Prince’s New Power Generation, D’Angelo and others, died on Tuesday, July 4 after suffering from cancer. He was 43.
Blackwell had been suffering for almost exactly a year, first being hospitalized while touring Japan after he lost the use of his left arm and leg. Last month, it was revealed that he was suffering from a number of brain tumors.
Five days ago, John’s wife, Yaritza, wrote on Instagram:
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. 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. Today, he faces another hospital change, now to a rehab facility, where he will receive Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapies to continue his long recovery process. I want to give special thanks to my mother, that for three months has been next to me everyday taking care of me and John, his friends John Spinelli, Tim Conwell, Bruce Harris and Takuya Futaesaku -Takki- and everyone who has visited him including his family, my family and his drummers friends Gregg Bissonette, Dennis Chambers, Antonio Sánchez, Billy Cobham, Chad Smith, Natalie Depergola, Connor Fass, Eric from Tampa, and musician Joe Cosas, just to name a few. I pray God for John everyday, every hour… and thank you for your prayers, donations and for the good thoughts for John. Yaritza
On Tuesday, 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. Yaritza
Blackwell started playing drums at the age of 3, learning from his father who played for the likes of Mary Wells, King Curtis, Joe Simon, the Spinners and others. He was a natural with perfect pitch and claimed to be able to see notes as colors.
He began his professional career at 13, playing in clubs and, by 17, was backing Billy Eckstein. After attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, he worked with Cameo and Patti LaBelle. It was while with LaBelle that he met Prince and, in 2000, joined the New Power Generation.
Blackwell was with Prince until 2012 although he toured with Justin Timberlake in 2006 for his FutureSex/LoveSounds album.
Later, he played with Frankie Beverly and Maze, Bootsy’s Rubber Band and D’Angelo.
He has recorded a solo album, The John Blackwell Project, and a drumming technique DVD.