By Kalifa Lewis, Features Reporter

On March 21, 2011, Keenan alumnus John Blackwell, Jr., was welcomed back to the Home of the Raiders with open arms with an assembly to receive the Key to the City of Columbia.

“I enjoyed the assembly because he’s a black drummer who came from Keenan,” Senior Titus Green said.

Blackwell is the son to the late Mamie Blackwell and the late John Blackwell, Sr. He followed in his father’s footsteps who was also a drummer who played with bands such as the Drifters and the Spinners. At the age of three, Blackwell, Jr., began playing the drums.

Blackwell, Jr., attended Keenan while under the instruction of Mr. Willie Lyles, retired Band Director. After Blackwell, Jr., graduated in 1991, he then attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the assembly, there was a performance by the Keenan drum line, speeches delivered, and the acceptance of the Key from the Mayor by Blackwell, Jr.

“Watching the band perform for him made me feel honored that the same traditions and techniques that were used when he was here are still being used today,” said Mr. Brandon Hopkins, Keenan Band Director.

Now at the age of 37, Blackwell, Jr., is the drummer for the pop musician Prince, who is a worldwide icon. Blackwell, Jr., has not only performed with Prince but also stars such as Patti LaBelle, Justin Timberlake and Diddy.

“Seeing him as a Keenan alumnus and making it in the music industry inspired me because if he can do it, then I can too,” said Junior Candance Benjamin.

Keenan graduate Mr. John Blackwell prepares to speak to the audience. Blackwell holds a framed proclamation, one of the many honors he received during the assembly.