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Ellis Marsalis, Sr. Dies

Ellis Marsalis, Sr., father of pianist Ellis Marsalis, Jr. and grandfather to musicians Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis, died Sun., Sept. 19 at the age of 96 in a New Orleans hospital.

Marsalis was a poultry farmer in New Orleans before he bought a barn along the Mississippi River and turned it into a 40-room motel that catered to blacks, since racial discrimination kept them out of the city’s. The Marsalis Motel quickly made a name for itself because of its well-appointed rooms, elegant restaurant and shaded gardens. Prominent hotel guests included civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., in addition to some of the best jazz musicians of the time.

As Marsalis continued to run his hotel, he became more and more involved in the civil rights fight struggle. “He was such a meek and humble person, a soft, soft personality, but stern in his beliefs,” said Rev. Marie Galatas, a New Orleans minister and lifelong civil rights activist who knew Marsalis, to Reuters.

Unfortunately, after civil rights legislation allowed blacks to stay in New Orleans hotels in the 1960s, the Marsalis Motel began to see its prominence decline and its business slowly drop. The motel closed in 1986 and was later demolished.

Marsalis’ funeral was held Thursday in New Orleans.

Originally Published