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 Prince’s drummer (and Keenan grad) will ‘show out’

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MessageSujet: Prince’s drummer (and Keenan grad) will ‘show out’    Mar 22 Mar - 11:34

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John Blackwell will be playing in front of the hometown crowd tonight. He’ll have friends and family members cheering him on, but he’ll be missing his parents.

His mother, Mamie, died two years ago, and he lost his father, John Blackwell Sr., in November. They used to travel to see him play the drums on some of the biggest stages.

“I wish they were here now,” Blackwell, a 1991 graduate of W.J. Keenan High School, said. “God needed them more. They will be with us in spirit.”




He said his family, friends and band mates have kept him strong.

“And, of course, Bossman,” he added.

He was talking about Prince, the iconic pop musician he’s backed for 11 years. As the drummer, Blackwell is the anchor of New Power Generation, Prince’s exceptional working band. Tonight, Blackwell will perform with Prince for the second time at the Colonial Life Arena.

The first show was in April 2004 at the arena then known as the Colonial Center. Prince acknowledged Blackwell twice, and both times he performed an acrobatic solo, banging cymbals behind his head with flicks of his wrist.

“It doesn’t matter if I get a solo or not,” Blackwell said about tonight’s concert. “I’m going to give my best to Columbia. Yeah, I’m going to show out.”

Blackwell, 37, began playing the drums when he was 3. His father was a drummer who jammed with bands such as The Drifters and The Spinners. His father would take him to big concerts in the area.

As a kid, Blackwell would fantasize about his name being announced at the Carolina Coliseum, then the primary concert arena in the city.

“That was a dream come true for me to come home and play in front of the hometown crowd,” said Blackwell, who signed autographs after the 2004 show.

Blackwell attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. After Berklee, he toured with Cameo for three years before hooking up with Patti LaBelle, a singer who will perform at the arena with Kenny G on April 29. It was at a LaBelle show in Minneapolis that he met Prince, who approached Blackwell backstage. He was invited to Prince’s Paisley Park Studios to jam.

Blackwell, who has also played with Diddy and Justin Timberlake, was invited to join New Power Generation in 2000.

“It’s an honor to grace the stage with an icon like Prince,” Blackwell said. “I’m truly grateful.”

Last year, Blackwell released his first solo project, “4Ever Jia,” under the moniker The John Blackwell Project. The album is named after his 2-year-old daughter, Jia, who drowned in a backyard swimming pool in June 2004.

This year, Keenan’s 1991 graduates are celebrating their reunion with a cruise in June. Blackwell won’t be able to go, so he’s hanging out while he’s in town. He’s probably gotten a lot of calls about tickets, but can you blame anyone who has his number?

“I may be able to help a few friends get in, but not everybody,” he said. “I may have to pay Prince!”

Blackwell’s job is keeping the beat — time — for one of the world’s most respected and loved performers. But Prince can be unpredictable, and announcing a concert 10 days before the show date isn’t a lot of time by industry standards.

To play for Prince — and, apparently, to buy Prince tickets — you’ve got to stay on your toes.

“This is my main job, so it’s a priority,” Blackwell said. “You have to be flexible.”



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