Columbia native John Blackwell, former drummer for Prince, died Tuesday, according to multiple media reports that quoted his wife’s Instagram account. He had been diagnosed with brain tumors a year ago, according to media reports.
Blackwell, who graduated from Keenan High School in 1991, began playing the drums at age 3, according to a profile published in The State in 2004. His father, who was a drummer, took him to concerts.
The first show Blackwell remembered seeing at the Carolina Coliseum was Sister Sledge, according to the profile. He was 6.
He said he slept through most of the show, but woke up with "10,000 people singing 'We Are Family.'"
"And they're all focused. I said, 'This is what I want to do.'"
After graduating from Keenan, he went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, but left before graduating to tour with Cameo. He spent three years with that musical group and two with Patti Labelle. It was at a Labelle show in Minneapolis that he met Prince.
Prince approached Blackwell backstage but ended the short conversation with, "I'll see you soon."
Shortly after Labelle's tour ended in 1999, Blackwell was invited to Prince's Paisley Park Studios to play.
"After it was over, he said thanks and sent me back to Columbia."
After two more trips to Paisley Park, Prince invited him to join New Power Generation in fall 2000.
Blackwell played with Prince when the late artist performed at what is now Colonial Life Arena in April 2004 and again in 2011. After the 2011 show, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin organized a school assembly at Keenan and gave Blackwell a key to the city. Prince also donated $250,000 after the show to the Eau Claire Promise Zone, an organization working to help preschoolers and their families in north Columbia.
On Tuesday afternoon, Benjamin tweeted that Blackwell’s music “was a gift that he shared with all. @columbiasc remains proud of him!”