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Jazz Pianist Billy Taylor Dies at 89

Billy Taylor

Billy Taylor dies at 89.

Billy Taylor, the noted jazz pianist and educator who enjoyed tremendous success on television, has died. He was 89.

Taylor died Tuesday of heart failure in New York, his daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson, told The New York Times.

A longtime fixture on television unlike many of his contemporaries, Taylor served as cultural correspondent on CBS News’ Sunday Morning and was the first African-American to lead a talk-show band when he was bandleader for The David Frost Show from 1969 to ’72.

He first made his mark on TV in 1958 as the musical director of NBC’s The Subject Is Jazz, the first TV series that covered jazz.

Born in North Carolina and raised in Washington, D.C., Taylor earned a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and preferred to be called Doctor Taylor.

He got his start playing with Ben Webster’s Quartet in 1943 in New York’s Three Deuces, where he performed for years afterward. He formed his own trio in 1951 and started lecturing at jazz music schools.

A year after The Subject Is Jazz launched, Taylor was hired as a DJ at a WLIB, Harlem-based radio station, before moving onto NPR, at which he worked for more than two decades. There, he hosted Jazz Alive and Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center.

Taylor also taught jazz at Long Island University, the Manhattan School of Music and other institutions. Among his 300-plus compositions was the gospel theme “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” which became an unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

A recipient of more than 20 honorary doctorates, Taylor also won two Peabodys, an Emmy for his work on Sunday Morning, a Grammy, and was elected into the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education.

In addition to his daughter, Taylor is survived by his wife, Theodora. His son, Duane, died in 1988.

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