This Day in Black History: July 24, 1921

Billy Taylor, jazz musician, composer, broadcaster and educator, was born.

Posted: 07/24/2012 08:00 AM EDT
Billy Taylor

For generations of jazz lovers, Billy Taylor was not just a highly gifted pianist. He was also a jazz enthusiast who championed that art form on television, and through education he helped make jazz accessible to the masses.

Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina, on July 24, 1921, and moved to Washington, D.C., when he was five. He grew up in a musical family and learned to play different instruments as a child, including guitar, drums and saxophone. He was most successful at the piano and took classical piano lessons with Henry Grant, the same teacher who had taught Duke Ellington a generation earlier. He made his first professional appearance playing keyboard at the age of 13 and the compensation was $1. He graduated from Virginia State University, where he became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

Over a distinguished career, Taylor not only played and composed, but also had a presence on television. He was a regular performer at Birdland in New York City and played with virtually every notable jazz musician of his time. Taylor appeared on hundreds of albums and composed more than 300 songs during his career spanning over six decades. In 1981, after being profiled by CBS News Sunday Morning, he was hired as an on-air correspondent and then conducted more than 250 interviews with musicians. He received an Emmy Award for his segment on the multi-talented Quincy Jones. Taylor died after a heart attack in 2010 in New York City at the age of 89.

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(Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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