A giant in the music world, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is a multi-Grammy Award winner who has been lauded for his work both in jazz and classical music.
Wynton Learson Marsalis was born on October 18, 1961, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The son of Ellis Marsalis and his wife, Dolores, Wynton was the second of six Marsalis boys.
Raised in a musical family that included his father, a musician and teacher, and his older brother Branford, also a jazz musician, Wynton was just 6 years old when he started playing the trumpet. Just two years later, he was a mainstay in his church band and, by age 14, began playing with the New Orleans Philharmonic.
Music continued to play a crucial role in Marsalis’ life throughout high school, and at the age of 17 he became the youngest musician ever accepted into Tanglewood's Berkshire Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Marsalis followed up the Tanglewood program with a move to New York City, where he attended the Juilliard School and eventually joined Art Blakey and his band, the Jazz Messengers. His rise could only be described as meteoric and, in 1982, after having signed on with Columbia Records, Marsalis released his first album, a self-titled jazz record that was met with rave reviews.
In 1983, Wynton Marsalis made history when he became the first musician to win Grammy Awards for both jazz and classical recordings. The following year, he did it again. He then won at least one other Grammy each year for the next three years.
In 1987 Marsalis, ever the jazz historian and ambassador, founded Jazz at Lincoln Center, a series developed with the express goal of broadening people's exposure to jazz music. His role with the series increased each year, with Marsalis eventually leading the program's 15-piece big band in their final performance.
Marsalis also began focusing on music composition, writing short and extended pieces that reflected his interest in early jazz styles. In 1995, he made his mark as a classical composer with his first major work: a string quartet entitled “At the Octoroon Balls.” Later compositions included the large-scale work “Blood on the Fields,” which won Marsalis the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Music. His win marked the first time that a jazz musician ever received the honor.
Beyond just his Grammy Awards and his coveted Pulitzer, Marsalis has received numerous additional distinctions for his musicianship and community outreach. He's the recipient of several honorary degrees and, in 2005, was given The National Medal of Arts.
Marsalis’ impact outside the United States has been significant as well. Britain's Royal Academy of Music awarded him Honorary Membership and, in 2009, he was granted France's highest award, the insignia Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
Marsalis was also careful not to severe his ties with his home city of New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he was at the forefront of reconstruction efforts, appearing in television ads and organizing Higher Ground, a benefit at Lincoln Center.
Marsalis, who has never been married, is the father of four children. He resides in New York City.
October 18, 1961
- At age 17, he was the youngest musician admitted to Tanglewood's Berkshire Music Center, where he won the school's Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student.
- In 1983, Wynton Marsalis made history when he became the first musician to win Grammy Awards for both jazz and classical recordings.
- The next year, he won Grammy Awards for jazz and classical recordings again. He then won at least one other Grammy each year for the next three years.
- In 1995, he made his mark as a classical composer with his first major work: a string quartet called “At the Octoroon Balls.”
- Also in 1995, PBS premiered ‘Marsalis On Music’, an educational television series on jazz and classical music hosted and written by Wynton.