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Sun, 07.24.1921

Billy Taylor, Pianist born

Billy Taylor

*Billy Taylor was born on this date in 1921.  He was a Black composer, educator, broadcaster, and piano player.

From Greenville, NC, William Billy Taylor, Sr. graduated from Virginia State College in 1942. He moved to New York and played with such major musicians as Ben Webster, Eddie South, and Slam Stewart, among others.   In 1944 he recorded with Stuff Smith. In 1951 he was the house pianist at Birdland, and soon afterward, Taylor formed his first of many trios.

He helped found the Jazzmobile in 1965 and, in 1969, became the first Black band director for a network television series (The David Frost Show).   In 1975 he earned his doctorate at the University of Massachusetts, and he both founded and served as director for the popular radio program Jazz Alive. But despite his activities in jazz education, Taylor rarely went long between performances and recordings, always keeping his bop-based style consistently swinging and fresh.  Billy Taylor was an articulate spokesman for jazz, and his profiles on CBS' Sunday Morning television program (where he had been a regular since 1981) were so successful at introducing jazz to a wider audience that sometimes one can forget how talented a pianist he was for the past half-century.

With over twenty-three honorary doctoral degrees, Taylor was also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, the NEA Jazz Masters Award (1998), an Emmy Award (1983) for "Outstanding Informational, Cultural or Historical Programming," a Grammy Award (2004)[8] and a host of prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as the National Medal of Arts (1992), the Tiffany Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Down Beat Magazine. He was honored in 2001 with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Jazz Living Legend Award and elected to the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education.

He was the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor of Music at East Carolina University in Greenville. From 1994, he was the artistic director for jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  While not an innovator, Taylor was varied enough to play swing, bop, and more advanced styles while always retaining his musical persona. Jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and educator Dr. Billy Taylor died of heart failure in New York City on December 28, 2010.  He was 89.

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