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Billy Taylor

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Billy Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina on July 24, 1921. Dr. Taylor, one of jazz’s most influential pianists, composers, and educators, is currently the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor of Music at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.

Taylor graduated from Virginia State College with a B.S. in Music in 1942, and has been playing piano professionally since 1944, starting with Ben Webster’s Quartet on New York’s 52nd Street. He later became the house pianist at Birdland, where he performed with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

In 1958, he was the Musical Director of NBC’s The Subject Is Jazz, the first ever television series on the subject of jazz.

He has received two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy and twenty three honorary doctoral degress. He earned his combined Masters and Doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts in 1975.

Among his most notable works is “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)”, composed in 1954, and subsequently achieving more popularity with Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Nina Simone covered the song in her 1967 album Silk and Soul. It is widely known in the UK as a piano instrumental version, used for BBC1’s Film programme, hosted by Barry Norman and subsequently Jonathan Ross. Derek Trucks, The Lighthouse Family and Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra have also recorded versions.

His daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson, is Professor of Clinical Law at New York University. His son, Duane Taylor, was an artist who died in 1988.

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