The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Billy Taylor

Share on Social Media

Information about Billy Taylor

Profile image of Billy Taylor

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Music Professor
Jazz Pianist
Music Composer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall, Winter
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Africa, South America
Favorite Quote:
Jazz Is America's Classical Music.

Birthplace

Born:
7/24/1921
Birth Location:
Greenville, North Carolina

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Music Professor
Jazz Pianist
Music Composer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall, Winter
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Africa, South America
Favorite Quote:
Jazz Is America's Classical Music.

Birthplace

Born:
7/24/1921
Birth Location:
Greenville
See how Billy Taylor is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Pianist, composer, and recording artist Billy Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina, on July 24, 1921, to a dentist father and schoolteacher mother. As a youth, Taylor and his family moved to Washington, D.C.; it was there that he began to study music. During his teenaged years, Taylor was heavily influenced by the sounds of the Big Bands that were popular. Young Taylor experimenting with many instruments, including drums, guitar and the saxophone, before he found his niche with the study of classical piano. Aside from actively pursing his musical education through independent means, Taylor also remained active in academia, graduating from Virginia State College in 1942 with his B.A. degree in Music.

Taylor moved to New York City in 1944, where he began his professional music career playing piano with Ben Webster's Quartet on 52nd Street. Taylor eventually became the house pianist at the legendary Birdland jazz club, where played alongside musical greats such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. Taylor continued on in the New York circuits, until the 1950s, when he began to lead and record with his own trio.

Taylor entered the realm of television in the 1970s, when he took on the role of musical director for The David Frost Show, which broadcast on the U.S. Westinghouse Corporation television stations. In addition to his activities with The David Frost Show, Taylor also acted as the musical director for Tony Brown’s Black Journal Tonight, a weekly show on PBS. Later in his television career, Taylor hosted his own jazz piano show on the Bravo network called Jazz Counterpoint. Despite his forays into visual media, Taylor remained closely tied to the world of audio by hosting a variety of radio both locally in New York, and syndicated nationally by National Public Radio. Perhaps his widest radio audience was reached when Taylor became the arts correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning in the early 1980s.

In addition to becoming a well respected musician of international fame, Taylor also went on to become a successful music educator. Taylor received his Masters and Doctorate degrees in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and went on to serve as the Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. Subsequent to these academic achievements, Taylor received several honorary doctoral degrees over the course of his career.

Recipient of numerous awards and appointments throughout his career, Taylor became one of only three jazz musicians at the time to be appointed to the National Council of the Arts. In addition to serving on the National Council of the Arts, Taylor was also appointed the artistic advisor on jazz for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he developed a run of widely acclaimed series, including the Louis Armstrong Legacy series, and the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival.

For his performances and professional activities, Taylor received two Peabody Awards; an Emmy; a Grammy; and a place in the Hall of Fame for the International Association of Jazz Educators. At the time of his interview in 2005, Taylor was still professionally active; touring and recording with his Trio, playing concert dates, appearing in television and radio engagements, writing music, and lecturing.

Taylor passed away on December 28, 2010.

See how Billy Taylor is related to other HistoryMakers
Loading...
Click Here To Explore The Archive Today!
  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Billy Taylor's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor lists his favorites, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor lists his favorites, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes his mother's background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor describes his father and his siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor lists his mother's siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes his father's background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers his Sunday routine
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor describes his paternal grandfather
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor describes his maternal grandfather's storytelling
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes his father and paternal uncle's relationship
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor describes the importance of community building, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor recounts switching majors at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor describes moving from Greenville, North Carolina to Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes his early musical interests
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor describes his first piano teacher, Elmira Street
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor remembers listening to new music on the radio
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes his educational experiences in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor describes his mentors at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor remembers playing in the orchestra at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes his early jazz gigs in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor remembers the African American professional community in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Billy Taylor describes his father's athletic involvement
  • Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Billy Taylor describes Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor recalls different responses from white and black audiences in the 1930s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor recalls segregated train travel
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor remembers jamming with white musicians in the 1930s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes Mary Lou Williams
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor recounts his musical experiences at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor recalls playing with local bands in Petersburg, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes his friends' career paths after college
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Count Basie and Jo Jones in Petersburg, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Ben Webster at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Art Tatum at the Three Deuces in New York City
  • Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor recalls meeting Coleman Hawkins at the White Rose Bar in New York City
  • Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Dizzy Gillespie
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor describes his interest in playing melodies
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor remembers playing with Dizzy Gillespie in New York City
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor remembers influential musicians he performed with
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes segregation in the music business
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor describes Erroll Garner
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor describes the transition from big band to bebop, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes the transition from big band to bebop, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers performing with Billie Holiday in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor describes recording with Savoy Records
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor recalls playing on Broadway's 'Seven Lively Arts'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes the Afro-Cuban influences on his music
  • Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor recounts becoming house pianist at Birdland in New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor describes his early writings about jazz
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor differentiates between jazz styles
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor remembers playing for Duke Ellington's opening night at Birdland in New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor remembers musicians he performed with at New York City's Birdland
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor recalls the premiere of his 'Suite for Jazz Piano and Orchestra' at Salt Lake City's Mormon Tabernacle
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor describes teaching and studying composition
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor recalls his time as the band leader on 'The David Frost Show'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers his CBS segment on HistoryMaker Quincy Jones
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor describes being jazz correspondent for 'CBS Sunday Morning'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor remembers performing with HistoryMaker Ramsey Lewis
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes his NEA and Grammy awards
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor describes his piano student, Eldar Djangirov
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor recalls lessons from his international travels
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor describes his songs inspired by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes opportunities for young black musicians
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor reflects upon changes to jazz music and jazz instruction
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor describes the importance of community building, pt. 2
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes the limitations of Ken Burns' 'Jazz' series
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor reflects upon media representations of jazz musicians
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor shares an anecdote about Art Tatum