Describe legendary musician Taj Mahal in a single word or phrase? Impossible. You could call him a singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, ethnomusicologist, two-time Grammy-winner, world-class musical collaborator, musicians' advocate, world traveler, fisherman, or cigar aficionado. These titles are all accurate, yet none convey the warmth, humor, and soulfulness of Taj and his music.
Born Henry St. Claire Fredericks in Harlem on May 17, 1942, Taj grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, a jazz pianist/composer/arranger of Caribbean descent, and his mother, a gospel-singing schoolteacher from South Carolina, encouraged their children to respect and be proud of their roots. His father had an extensive record collection and a short-wave radio that brought sounds from near and far to Taj's ears. His parents also started him on classical piano lessons, but after two weeks, he says, "it was already clear I had my own concept of how I wanted to play." The lessons stopped, but Taj didn't.
Taj has been playing his own distinctive brand of music—variously described as Afro-Caribbean blues, folk-world-blues, hula blues, folk-funk, and a host of other hyphenations—for more than 40 years. Caribbean, Hawaiian, African, Latin, and Cuban sounds and rhythms mix with folk, jazz, zydeco, gospel, rock, pop, soul, and R&B, all layered on top of a solid country blues foundation.
What ties it all together is Taj's abiding interest in musical discovery, particularly in tracing many American musical forms back to their roots in Africa and Europe. Following his passion, Taj has spent time in the Caribbean, West Africa, Hawaii, Europe, the South Pacific, Australia, South America, and all over the continental U.S. His music reflects his global perspective, incorporating sounds from everywhere he's lived and traveled.
A self-taught musician, Taj plays more than 20 instruments, including the National Steel and Dobro guitars. His remarkable voice ranges from gruff and gravelly to smooth and sultry.
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