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Dr. Billy Taylor

7 March, 2011

Dr. William (Billy) Edward Taylor, who passed away in late December 2010, was known as the distinguished ambassador of the jazz community to the world-at-large. He was born in Greenville, NC in 1921. After graduating from Virginia State University in 1942, Taylor began playing the piano professionally. He got his start with Ben Webster’s Quartet on New York’s famed 52nd Street. He then served as the house pianist at Birdland, the legendary jazz club where he performed with such celebrated masters as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis

Dr. Taylor’s recording career spanned nearly six decades. He has composed over 350 songs, including I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to Be Free as well as works for theater, dance, and symphony orchestras.

Dr. Taylor was not only an influential musician, but a highly regarded teacher. He hosted and programmed for such radio stations as WLIB and WNEW in New York and award winning series for National Public Radio. In the early 1980s, Taylor became the arts correspondent for CBS Saturday Morning.

Dr. Billy Taylor is one of only three jazz musicians appointed to the National Council of the Arts, and also served as the Artistic Advisor for Jazz to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where he developed one acclaimed concert series after another, including the Louis Armstrong Legacy Series and the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival.

Dr. Taylor is also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a host of prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as teh National Medal of Arts, the Tiffany Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award form Downbeat Magazine, and election to the Hall of Fame fort he International Association for JAzz Education.

The materials donated by Dr. Taylor consist of record albums, books, music scores, awards, and artwork. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. was instrumental in acquiring these materials. Taylor’s papers are only minimally processed and not yet ready for research use.

-Lucious Edwards, Jr. University Archivist
This biography originally appeared in the VSU Alumni Magazine vol. 10 no. 2, page 9.

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