Former long-time Prince Drummer, John Blackwell Jr. passed away of cancer on July 4, 2017 – He was 43 years old. On a 2016 trip to Japan, doctors had discovered John had two brain tumors, which had seriously affected the use of his left arm and leg.
Upon returning home, he checked into the Tampa, Florida General Hospital's Rehabilitation Center, where he underwent physical therapy in the hopes of playing drums again. In an interview with Tampa Bay News, John was quoted as saying - "I get lazy as everybody knows, I'll be like, 'I don't want to go,' but then something tells me in my mind, 'Hey, bro if I'm going to get out of here and get back to the drums… go to your therapy.”
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, John took up the drums at the age of 3. He was long considered a master drummer, with a totally unique style. He played in both the Jazz, and Marching bands in high school, and began playing clubs at the age of 13. After graduating, he attended Berklee College of Music, but left in 1995 to join the funk band Cameo. John then moved to Los Angeles in 1998 when he got the gig with Patti LaBelle.
While playing with LaBelle, he met Prince at a Minneapolis, MN concert, later joining Prince’s New Power Generation band in 2000. John played with Prince for 15 years. He also toured with Justin Timberlake, and performed with D’angelo, P. Diddy, Crystal Kay, Charlie Singleton., and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and Utada Hikaru. John was the drummer on Prince’s Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas DVD, and the 2003 instrumental album N.E.W.S.
His wife Yaritza conveyed the following message soon after his passing. "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."
John Blackwell’s death has prompted a large number of accolades from fellow drummers, and many others in the music industry world-wide.
"Rest In Peace John Blackwell - Your legend will live 4 ever -One of the best to ever pick up the drumsticks. Prayers to family and friends."
- Travis Barker
“So Sad to hear of the passing of yet another Great Drumming Brother…John Blackwell Jr. -John was also a South Carolina Bro and personal friend for many years. His Talent and Passion for playing will be greatly missed…gone way too soon ! My heartfelt condolences to his wife and family…R.I.P. John.”
- Rick Latham
“Prince just got his favorite drummer back and I know John is killing that groove up there.”
- Nik West
“We lost another brother…John Blackwell made his transition today!!!
Our prayers go out to his wife and family!
- Morris Day
“My beautiful friend John Blackwell passed away 2day Plz keep his family in prayer. He was amazing man -Luv u my brother.”
- Sheila E
“We lost our friend & amazing Drummer, Mr. John Blackwell. Send up yr prayer’s & love vibes for his family & friends,”
- Bootsy Collins
'THIS' "I" Declare as…"John Blackwell Jr. Day"!!! Let us 'ALL' Celebrate His Life…His Drumming…His Work…His History he's left behind…His tenure with and for All the Many "Great Artists" he's graced the stage with, and "Helped Make Great", whether 'Live' Or "In the Studio"…His Love of his beloved Wife "Yaritza", and Her love loyalty and True Devotion To and For Him…His Love of and for His beloved Children…And His "Truly 'Dynamic' Legacy" from Here Forth…I proclaim the dedication of this day to him, in submission, in The Lord's Name….Amen…Jonathan "Sugarfoot" Moffett… soul, moved…"
"In 1998 or so, this new drummer came to San Diego from South Carolina. Younger dude, chops for days and so much fun to watch! He used to come down to my gig at The Kraken in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA on Wednesday nights and sit in with Jeff Moore & The Witchdoctors. And dude was ALWAYS a treat to watch! Turns out he lived not two miles up the street from me in Vista, CA.
So one day he calls me up and says "Hey man, I gotta go get a job..." I asked "where you gonna get a job?" he says "Toys-R-Us". I was like "Man you are such an amazing player, why don't you just pick up more gigs? (this was when the business was a lot different!)
He said "I don't have any drums right now so I can't really take a gig and show up with no drums..." So I told him "Well get over here to my place and pick up a set of drums!" And I sent him off with my old Corder Drum Co. kit and said "bring it back when you're done with them".
So eight months later I get a call from him and he says to me "I gotta get you back this kit, I'm moving soon." So he drops them off at the house and the heads are all trashed out but the drums were OK so I knew they'd been respected and appreciated.
"Where ya moving to, dude?" I asked him. He said "Minneapolis... just landed the gig with Prince."
And today John Blackwell has gone home after a long fight with cancer. I hope you find all that you seek, my friend. The world will miss you and I'll never forget your monstrous playing and kind heart.