John Blackwell was born on September 9, 1973, and passed away on July 4, 2017. John was raised in Columbia, South Carolina. He started playing drums when he was only three years old. It is no surprise that he chose this path, considering that his father, John Blackwell Sr, was a drummer too. The father played with known musicians like Mary Wells, King Curtis, Joe Simon, J.J Jackson, etc.
He was one of the best drummers globally, and his reputation earned him the respect of many great artists across the globe. John Blackwell was therefore exposed to a great musical environment from an early age and would use that opportunity to become an excellent drummer himself.
As you would expect, John joined the high school marching and jazz bands as a teenager. He had already shown a promising drumming career, and hence, it was not hard to be accepted anywhere. From 13 years old, John was playing jazz clubs until he graduated from high school. John’s love for music was not the only thing that fueled his ambitions. He was also an innovator of art.
He was always looking for new ways to improve his skills and impact others positively, something you would not expect from many other artists. When John reached 17, he got a chance to play in his first big gig. This was with singer and swinger bandleader Billy Eckstine who was impressed with the drummer’s talent. Even then, John was still in high school, and the path to his greatness was just beginning to light up.
From high school, the drummer joined Berklee College of Music and graduated in 1995. It was here that he learned the diversity of the music world and embraced different drumming styles. It also helped him make some new friends who encouraged him. John started his professional drumming career officially in 1995.
Between then and 2016, he played for a wide range of pop, funk, hip-hop, jazz, and fusion greats. Some of the stars he worked with include Prince, Justin Timberlake, Cameo, Patti LaBelle, Utada Hikaru, Crystal Kay, and P Diddy. December 2009 was a memorable time for the drummer as he released his debut, John Blackwell Project. At the same time, he played with the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert from 2008, which he did until 2011.
John created two educational DVDs: a two-disc set called John Blackwell – Technique, Grooving and Showmanship, and another in his name John Blackwell. They feature in the Hudson Music Masters Series. Big drum brands endorsed John Blackwell to market their products. These included Tama Drums and Zildjian Cymbals and sticks. He moved to Zildjian after working with Sabian and Vater.
Unfortunately, John, in 2016, announced that he had lost the use of his left limbs. He went for a diagnosis, which revealed a brain tumor. And on July 4, 2017, he was announced dead. Until his death, John had impacted the music industry greatly. His work lives on, and he continues to inspire many artists, especially drummers, to keep going.