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Pianist John Nelson Dies at 85

John Nelson, a jazz pianist whose main contribution to the musical world was fathering and collaborating with his son Prince, died at the age of 85 on Aug. 25 in Chanhassen, Minn. The cause of the death was not reported.

In 1956, Nelson came to Minneapolis from Louisiana. He worked days as a plaster molder at Honeywell; during nights he played piano and led the Prince Rogers Trio, whose singer was Mattie Shaw. Nelson and Shaw later married, and named their first child Prince Rogers Nelson. The son would become famous after he shed the last two names.

Nelson’s relationship with his son was often rocky. He left the house when Prince was about 10 and his sister Tyka was about 8, leaving behind a piano which Prince soon discovered that he loved to play. Nelson also bought Prince his first guitar and encouraged a musical career. When Prince rose to fame, father and son fully reconciled. The two co-wrote such Prince songs as “Computer Blue,” “The Ladder,” “Christopher Tracy’s Parade,” “Under the Cherry Moon,” and “Scandalous.” For the last few years, Nelson had been living in the purple house that Prince once lived in near the Paisley Park studios.

Originally Published