henry louis gates

‘Finding Your Roots’: Marsalis Reflects; Why Alicia Keys Pulled Out

Publication: EurWeb.com
Author: Cherie Saunders
Date: March 26, 2012

New Orleans-born musician Branford Marsalis was hit with a one-two punch in Sunday’s season premiere of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.”

First, the Grammy winning saxophonist had always figured that he had white, European blood in his family line – as do most African Americans – and had always assumed that it was the result of a slave master raping one of his ancestors, as is usually the case.

Dr. Gates confirmed that Branford indeed descends from a German white man, Johann Learson, who changed his name to John Learson and shows up in New Orleans in 1851. But he fathered a child with a free black woman – named Mertay Valentine, Branford’s great, great, great grandmother). The relationship appears to have been a long one, as they had seven children – each bearing Learson’s surname.

Then, Dr. Gates dropped the other bombshell. The Marsalis family does not actually descend from a Marsalis. Their blood line comes from Isaac Black, who was married to Branford’s great, great grandmother Elizabeth Montgomery. They had a child together, Simeon, before divorcing a short time later. She then married Joseph Marsalis, who adopted Simeon. The boy then took on his step-father’s name.

“When Professor Gates was telling it to me, I kind of said, ‘You know, however I got here is fine with me,’” Marsalis recalls of that moment in the episode. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 27th, 2012 — 02:01pm

Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis explore their family trees on PBS' 'Finding Your Roots'

Publication: Nola.com
Author: Dave Walker
Date: March 25, 2012

The genealogy surprises revealed to Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in the latest installment of Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” series for PBS are so much fun they could count as story spoilers. So, if you want those surprises preserved, feel free to now skip ahead a few paragraphs knowing that a couple of New Orleans’ favorite sons meet some great-great-greats they couldn’t have imagined having. Spoilers a-comin’.

The episode airs at 7 p.m. Sunday (March 25), followed by a second hour in which Gates does similar digging for Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

The Marsalis musical dynasty, it turns out, is the product of the mid-1800s union of a German immigrant and a free woman of color.

The couple couldn’t marry, and their relationship – which produced seven children – was a statistical rarity.

“They had a relationship of mutuality and love and that kept them together, and that’s really neat,” Gates said during a recent phone interview. “Here’s something that will never be lost now for the Marsalis family, that they’re descended from this white man who defied all the common prejudices of the time. He gets off the boat and the first thing he sees is this beautiful free Negro woman, and boom they have seven children. Can you imagine writing home? Read more »