NEW YORK, 30 DECEMBER 2010 Jazz pianist and composer Dr.
Billy Taylor, one of America's most distinguished musicians and
educators, died Tuesday in New York. He was 89 and lived in Riverdale, New
The cause was heart failure, according to his daughter, Kim
Taylor-Thompson and the post on his official website.
Born in 1921 in North Carolina and raised in Washington,
D.C., Dr. Billy Taylor's recording career spanned over six decades.
He also composed over three hundred and fifty songs, as well as works for
theatre, dance and symphony orchestras.
Among his most notable works is "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be
Free", achieving great popularity with Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s
and 1960s. Nina Simone
covered the song in her 1967 album Silk and Soul, and the song
continues to be recorded by many artists worldwide, most recently by Levon
Playing the piano professionally since 1944, 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. Starting in the 1950s, Billy Taylor led his own Trio, as well as
performed with the most influential jazz musicians of the twentieth
After many years of recording for leading record labels, in 1989,
Taylor started his own "Taylor Made" record label to document his own
music, releasing four albums, and in the late 90s, "Soundpost Records,"
releasing his two final recordings.
Dr. Taylor was not only an influential musician, but a highly regarded
teacher as well, receiving his Masters and Doctorate in Music Education
from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and serving as a Duke
Ellington Fellow at Yale University.
He also hosted and programmed such radio stations WLIB and WNEW in New
York, and several award winning series for National Public Radio. In
the early 1980s, Taylor became the arts correspondent for CBS Sunday
Dr. Billy Taylor was 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
With over twenty three honorary doctoral degrees, Dr. Billy Taylor was
also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy and a host of
prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as the National Medal of Arts,
the Tiffany Award, a Lifetime achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine,
and, election to the Hall of Fame for the International Association for
Dr. Taylor's survivors include his wife, Theodora and his daughter, Kim
Taylor-Thompson. A son, Duane, passed away in 1988.