Jazz Legend Billy Taylor Made His Mark in D.C.

By WAMU 88.5
|  Thursday, Dec 30, 2010  |  Updated 2:30 PM EDT
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In Memoriam

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Billy Taylor, the longtime artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center in D.C. and composer, died Dec. 28 in New York of heart failure at age 89. Taylor performed with other jazz greats including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald.

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Jazz pianist and composer Billy Taylor died of heart failure this week at age 89.

Taylor grew up in the District and, through his storied career, left his mark on public radio and the Kennedy Center.

Taylor was born in North Carolina but attended Dunbar High School in Washington.

He then studied music at Virginia State College, graduating in 1942.

Soon after that, he headed to New York City, where he played with top jazz musicians and eventually became a jazz teacher and advocate, traveling to high schools and colleges to talk about music.

In the 1960s, Taylor hit the radio airwaves and later hosted the popular NPR program "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center" -- a series on which he introduced live performances and interviewed artists.

He also served as an advisor to the Kennedy Center.

"Like native son, Duke Ellington, whose music teacher at Dunbar later taught Taylor, this city’s influence on Taylor’s life and musical career was unmistakable," Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. "He found his way to jazz in the city’s classic jazz places, such as Republic Gardens, his first gig, and the Howard Theatre."

Taylor earned a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts and then went on to perform hundreds of free concerts around the world.

He also penned more than 300 compositions in his lifetime, including "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," which became an unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement.

Listen to the complete story at wamu.org

Copyright 2010 WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio. All Rights Reserved.

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