John Blackwell, 43, teacher at Berklee, Prince drummer

Berklee College of Music
John Blackwell Jr.

TAMPA — John Blackwell Jr., a former drummer for Prince and Justin Timberlake who taught at the Berklee College of Music, died in Florida Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. He was 43.

Mr. Blackwell’s wife, Yaritza, said in a post on his official Instagram account that he died ‘‘peacefully’’ in her company. She thanked God for his life and his fans for their support. She said he had been treated for a brain tumor.

A native of Columbia, S.C., Mr. Blackwell learned drumming from his father, John Blackwell Sr., who played with such artists as the Drifters and Mary Wells before becoming an engineer.


Mr. Blackwell graduated from Berklee in 1995 then embarked on a career that included stints with Patti LaBelle's band, Timberlake, and
more than a dozen years with Prince’s The New Power Generation.

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Of touring with Timberlake, Mr. Blackwell told The Boston Globe: “He’s like Prince, Elvis, and Teddy Pendergrass,” he said. “Justin makes the girls scream. We’d play 50,000-seaters, and all I’d hear was, ‘Awwww.’ ”

Mr. Blackwell was named an associate professor of percussion at Berklee in 2013.

‘’John studied with me just about his entire time at Berklee,” John Ramsay, chair of the college’s Percussion Department, told a Berklee publication at the time of Mr. Blackwell’s hiring. “I knew he was good, but it wasn’t until some time after he graduated, when I caught him playing on TV with Patti LaBelle, that I realized the full spectrum of his abilities and talent.

“I remember thinking, ‘Man, this must be one of those old Motown session guys,’ then the camera went to the drummer and, to my surprise, it was John Blackwell.”


Colleagues paid tribute to Mr. Blackwell online.

“Prince just got his favorite drummer back and I know John is killing that groove up there. #RipJohnBlackwell,” bassist Nik West, whom Mr. Blackwell had also performed with over the years, wrote on Instagram.

Mr. Blackwell had established a scholarship for his daughter, Jia, for female students at Berklee. Jia Blackwell was 2 when she accidentally drowned in the family’s swimming pool.

He launched the scholarship with a benefit concert at Berklee in 2004.

“I was in one section of the house by myself, just crying and missing Jia so bad,” he told the Globe. “Out of the clear blue, the idea popped into my head. I was just like, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this for her.’ Some kind of tribute to her, because she loved drums.”