Taj Mahal
Woodland Park Zoo
August 15, 2019

with Marc Cohn, Blind Boys of Alabama


Woodland Park Zoo
5500 Phinney Avenue North, Seattle, WA, 98103, US


Thursday, August 15, 2019
6:00 PM

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Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal Biography

Henry Saint Clair Fredericks (born May 17, 1942), who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an American blues musician. He often incorporates elements of world music into his works. A self-taught singer-songwriter and film composer who plays the guitar, piano, banjo and harmonica (among many other instruments), Mahal has done much to reshape the definition and scope of blues music over the course of his almost 50-year career by fusing it with nontraditional forms, including sounds from the Caribbean, Africa and the South Pacific.

Early life
Born Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, Jr. on May 17, 1942, in Harlem, New York, Mahal grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. Raised in a musical environment, his mother was a member of a local gospel choir and his father was a West Indian jazz arranger and piano player. His family owned a shortwave radio which received music broadcasts from around the world, exposing him at an early age to world music. Early in childhood he recognized the stark differences between the popular music of his day and the music that was played in his home. He also became interested in jazz, enjoying the works of musicians such as Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Milt Jackson. His parents came of age during the Harlem Renaissance, instilling in their son a sense of pride in his West Indian and African ancestry through their stories.

Because his father was a musician, his house was frequently the host of other musicians from the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S. His father, Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Sr., was called "The Genius" by Ella Fitzgerald before starting his family. Early on, Henry Jr. developed an interest in African music, which he studied assiduously as a young man. His parents also encouraged him to pursue music, starting him out with classical piano lessons. He also studied the clarinet, trombone and harmonica. When Mahal was eleven his father was killed in an accident at his own construction company, crushed by a tractor when it flipped over. This was an extremely traumatic experience for the boy.
Mahal's mother later remarried. His stepfather owned a guitar which Taj began using at age 13 or 14, receiving his first lessons from a new neighbor from North Carolina of his own age who played acoustic blues guitar. His name was Lynwood Perry, the nephew of the famous bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. In high school Mahal sang in a doo-wop group.
For some time Mahal thought of pursuing farming over music. He had developed a passion for farming that nearly rivaled his love of music—coming to work on a farm first at age 16. It was a dairy farm in Palmer, Massachusetts, not far from Springfield. By age nineteen he had become farm foreman, getting up a bit after 4:00 a.m. and running the place. "I milked anywhere between thirty-five and seventy cows a day. I clipped udders. I grew corn. I grew Tennessee redtop clover. Alfalfa." Mahal believes in growing one's own food, saying, "You have a whole generation of kids who think everything comes out of a box and a can, and they don't know you can grow most of your food." Because of his personal support of the family farm, Mahal regularly performs at Farm Aid concerts.
Taj Mahal, his stage name, came to him in dreams about Gandhi, India, and social tolerance. He started using it in 1959 or 1961—around the same time he began attending the University of Massachusetts. Despite having attended a vocational agriculture school, becoming a member of the National FFA Organization, and majoring in animal husbandry and minoring in veterinary science and agronomy, Mahal decided to take the route of music instead of farming. In college he led a rhythm and blues band called Taj Mahal & The Elektras and, before heading for the U.S. West Coast, he was also part of a duo with Jessie Lee Kincaid.

In 1964 he moved to Santa Monica, California, and formed Rising Sons with fellow blues rock musician Ry Cooder and Jessie Lee Kincaid, landing a record deal with Columbia Records soon after. The group was one of the first interracial bands of the period, which likely made them commercially unviable. An album was never released (though a single was) and the band soon broke up, though Legacy Records did release The Rising Sons Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder in 1993 with material from that period. During this time Mahal was working with others, musicians like Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Muddy Waters. Mahal stayed with Columbia after the Rising Sons to begin his solo career, releasing the self-titled Taj Mahal in 1968, The Natch'l Blues in 1969, and Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home with Kiowa session musician Jesse Ed Davis from Oklahoma, who played guitar and piano (also in 1969). During this time he and Cooder worked with the Rolling Stones, with whom he has performed at various times throughout his career. In 1968, he performed in the film The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. He recorded a total of twelve albums for Columbia from the late 1960s into the 1970s. His work of the 1970s was especially important, in that his releases began incorporating West Indian and Caribbean music, jazz and reggae into the mix. In 1972, he acted in and wrote the film score for the movie Sounder, which starred Cicely Tyson. He reprised his role and returned as composer in the sequel, Part 2, Sounder.
In 1976 Mahal left Columbia and signed with Warner Bros. Records, recording three albums for them. One of these was another film score for 1977's Brothers; the album shares the same name. After his time with Warner Bros., he struggled to find another record contract, this being the era of heavy metal and disco music.

Stalled in his career, he decided to move to Kauai, Hawaii in 1981 and soon formed the Hula Blues Band. Originally just a group of guys getting together for fishing and a good time, the band soon began performing regularly and touring. He remained somewhat concealed from most eyes while working out of Hawaii throughout most of the 1980s before recording Taj in 1988 for Gramavision. This started a comeback of sorts for him, recording both for Gramavision and Hannibal Records during this time.
In the 1990s he was on the Private Music label, releasing albums full of blues, pop, R&B and rock. He did collaborative works both with Eric Clapton and Etta James.
In 1998, in collaboration with renowned songwriter David Forman, producer Rick Chertoff and musicians Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nile, Joan Osborne, Rob Hyman, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm of the Band, and the Chieftains, he performed on the Americana album Largo based on the music of Antonín Dvořák.
In 1997 he won Best Contemporary Blues Album for Señor Blues at the Grammy Awards, followed by another Grammy for Shoutin' in Key in 2000. He performed the theme song to the children's television show Peep and the Big Wide World, which began broadcast in 2004.
In 2002, Mahal appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot and Riot in tribute to Nigerian afrobeat musician Fela Kuti. The Paul Heck produced album was widely acclaimed, and all proceeds from the record were donated to AIDS charities.
Mahal partnered up with Keb' Mo' to release a joint album TajMo on May 5, 2017. The album has some guest appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Joe Walsh, Sheila E., and Lizz Wright, and has six original compositions and five covers, from artists and bands like John Mayer and The Who.
Musical style

Mahal leads with his thumb and middle finger when fingerpicking, rather than with his index finger as the majority of guitar players do. "I play with a flatpick," he says, "when I do a lot of blues leads." Early in his musical career Mahal studied the various styles of his favorite blues singers, including musicians like Jimmy Reed, Son House, Sleepy John Estes, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin' Wolf, Mississippi John Hurt, and Sonny Terry. He describes his hanging out at clubs like Club 47 in Massachusetts and Ash Grove in Los Angeles as "basic building blocks in the development of his music." Considered to be a scholar of blues music, his studies of ethnomusicology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst would come to introduce him further to the folk music of the Caribbean and West Africa. Over time he incorporated more and more African roots music into his musical palette, embracing elements of reggae, calypso, jazz, zydeco, R&B, gospel music, and the country blues—each of which having "served as the foundation of his unique sound." According to The Rough Guide to Rock, "It has been said that Taj Mahal was one of the first major artists, if not the very first one, to pursue the possibilities of world music. Even the blues he was playing in the early 70s – Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff (1972), Mo' Roots (1974) – showed an aptitude for spicing the mix with flavours that always kept him a yard or so distant from being an out-and-out blues performer." Concerning his voice, author David Evans writes that Mahal has "an extraordinary voice that ranges from gruff and gritty to smooth and sultry."

Taj Mahal believes that his 1999 album Kulanjan, which features him playing with the kora master of Mali's Griot tradition Toumani Diabate, "embodies his musical and cultural spirit arriving full circle." To him it was an experience that allowed him to reconnect with his African heritage, striking him with a sense of coming home. He even changed his name to Dadi Kouyate, the first jali name, to drive this point home. Speaking of the experience and demonstrating the breadth of his eclecticism, he has said:

The microphones are listening in on a conversation between a 350-year-old orphan and its long-lost birth parents. I've got so much other music to play. But the point is that after recording with these Africans, basically if I don't play guitar for the rest of my life, that's fine with me....With Kulanjan, I think that Afro-Americans have the opportunity to not only see the instruments and the musicians, but they also see more about their culture and recognize the faces, the walks, the hands, the voices, and the sounds that are not the blues. Afro-American audiences had their eyes really opened for the first time. This was exciting for them to make this connection and pay a little more attention to this music than before.

Taj Mahal has said he prefers to do outdoor performances, saying: "The music was designed for people to move, and it's a bit difficult after a while to have people sitting like they're watching television. That's why I like to play outdoor festivals-because people will just dance. Theatre audiences need to ask themselves: 'What the hell is going on? We're asking these musicians to come and perform and then we sit there and draw all the energy out of the air.' That's why after a while I need a rest. It's too much of a drain. Often I don't allow that. I just play to the goddess of music-and I know she's dancing."
Views on the blues
Throughout his career, Mahal has performed his brand of blues (an African American artform) for a predominantly white audience. This has been a disappointment at times for Mahal, who recognizes there is a general lack of interest in blues music among many African Americans today. He has drawn a parallel comparison between the blues and rap music in that they both were initially black forms of music that have come to be assimilated into the mainstream of society. He is quoted as saying, "Eighty-one percent of the kids listening to rap were not black kids. Once there was a tremendous amount of money involved in it ... they totally moved it over to a material side. It just went off to a terrible direction." Mahal also believes that some people may think the blues are about wallowing in negativity and despair, a position he disagrees with. According to him, "You can listen to my music from front to back, and you don't ever hear me moaning and crying about how bad you done treated me. I think that style of blues and that type of tone was something that happened as a result of many white people feeling very, very guilty about what went down."
Taj Mahal has received two Grammy Awards (nine nominations) over his career.
1997 (Grammy Award) Best Contemporary Blues Album for Señor Blues
2000 (Grammy Award) Best Contemporary Blues Album for Shoutin' in Key
2006 (Blues Music Awards) Historical Album of the Year for The Essential Taj Mahal
2008 (Grammy Nomination) Best Contemporary Blues Album for Maestro
On February 8, 2006 Taj Mahal was designated the official Blues Artist of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In March 2006, Taj Mahal, along with his sister, the late Carole Fredericks, received the Foreign Language Advocacy Award from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in recognition of their commitment to shine a spotlight on the vast potential of music to foster genuine intercultural communication.
On May 22, 2011, Taj Mahal received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He also made brief remarks and performed three songs. A video of the performance can be found online.
In 2014, Taj Mahal received the Americana Music Association's Lifetime Achievement award.
1968 – Taj Mahal
1968 – The Natch'l Blues
1969 – Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home
1971 – Happy Just to Be Like I Am
1972 – Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff
1972 – Sounder
1973 – Oooh So Good 'n Blues
1974 – Mo' Roots
1975 – Music Keeps Me Together
1976 – Satisfied 'N Tickled Too
1976 – Music Fuh Ya'
1977 – Brothers
1977 – Evolution
1987 – Taj
1988 – Shake Sugaree
1991 – Mule Bone
1991 – Like Never Before
1993 – Dancing the Blues
1995 – Mumtaz Mahal (with V.M. Bhatt and N. Ravikiran)
1996 – Phantom Blues
1997 – Señor Blues
1998 – Sacred Island aka Hula Blues (with The Hula Blues Band)
1999 – Kulanjan (with Toumani Diabaté)
2001 – Hanapepe Dream (with The Hula Blues Band)
2005 – Mkutano Meets the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar
2008 – Maestro
2017 - TajMo (with Keb' Mo')
Live albums
1971 – The Real Thing
1972 – Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff
1972 – Big Sur Festival - One Hand Clapping
1979 – Live & Direct
1990 – Live at Ronnie Scott's
1996 – An Evening of Acoustic Music
2000 – Shoutin' in Key
2004 – Live Catch
Compilation albums
1980 – Going Home
1981 – The Best of Taj Mahal, Volume 1 – Columbia Records
1992 – Taj's Blues
1993 – World Music
1998 – In Progress & In Motion: 1965-1998
1999 – Blue Light Boogie
2000 – The Best of Taj Mahal
2000 – The Best of the Private Years
2001 – Sing a Happy Song: The Warner Bros. Recordings
2003 – Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues - Taj Mahal
2003 – Blues with a Feeling: The Very Best of Taj Mahal
2005 – The Essential Taj Mahal
2012 – Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal
Various artists featuring Taj Mahal
1968 – The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
1968 – The Rock Machine Turns You On
1970 – Fill Your Head With Rock
1985 – Conjure – Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed
1990 – The Hot Spot – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1991 – Vol Pour Sidney- one title, other tracks by Charlie Watts, Elvin Jones, Pepsi, The Lonely Bears, Lee Konitz and others.
1992 – Rising Sons Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder
1992 – Smilin' Island of Song by Cedella Marley Booker and Taj Mahal.
1993 – The Source by Ali Farka Touré (World Circuit WCD030 / Hannibal 1375)
1993 – Peace Is the World Smiling
1997 – Follow the Drinking Gourd
1997 – Shakin' a Tailfeather
1998 – Scrapple Soundtrack
1998 – Largo
1999 – Hippity Hop
2001 - "Strut" - Jimmy Smith, Dot Com Blues
2002 – Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues (Rhino), contributing his version of "Outskirts of Town"
2002 – Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Volume III lead in and first verse of title song, with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Alison Krauss, Doc Watson
2004 – Musicmakers with Taj Mahal (Music Maker 49)
2004 – Etta Baker with Taj Mahal (Music Maker 50)
2007 – Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard), contributing his version of "My Girl Josephine".
2007 – Le Coeur d'un homme (Johnny Hallyday), duet on "T'Aimer Si Mal", written by French best-selling novelist Marc Levy.
2009 – American Horizon with Los Cenzontles and David Hidalgo
2011 – Play The Blues Live From Lincoln Jazz Center with Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton, playing on Just a Closer Walk With Thee and Corrine, Corrina
2013 – Poye 2 with Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba on album "Jama Ko"
2013 – Winding Down with Sammy Hagar, Dave Zirbel, John Cuniberti, Mona Gnader and Vic Johnson on album "Sammy Hagar & Friends"
2013 – Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War, with a version of Down by the Riverside
2015 – How Can a Poor Boy? with Van Morrison on Van Morrisonʻs album Duets: Re-Working the Cataglogue
Live DVDs
2002 – Live at Ronnie Scott's 1988
2006 – Taj Mahal/Phantom Blues Band Live at St. Lucia
2011 – Play The Blues Live From Lincoln Jazz Center with Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton, playing on Just a Closer Walk With Thee and Corrine, Corrina
1972 – Sounder as Ike
1977 - Brothers
1991 – Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
1996 – The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
1998 – Outside Ozona
1998 – Six Days, Seven Nights
1998 – Blues Brothers 2000
1998 – Scrapple
2000 – Songcatcher
2002 – Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
TV Shows
1992 – New WKRP in Cincinnati – Moss Dies as himself
2003 – Arthur – Big Horns George as himself
2004 – Theme song Peep and the Big Wide World

Buckley, Peter; Buckley, Joanathan (2003). The Rough Guide to Rock (3rd ed.). London, U.K.: Rough Guides. ISBN 1-84353-105-4. 
Dicaire, David (2002). More Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Artists from the Later 20th Century. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1035-3. 
Elam, Harry Justin; Jackson, Kennell (2005). Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-09840-3. 
Evans, David (2005). The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Blues. New York City: Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 0-399-53072-X. 
George-Warren, Holly; Hoekstra, Dave; Natkin, Paul; Willie Nelson; et al. (2005). Farm Aid: A Song for America. Emmaus, PA: Rodale. ISBN 1-59486-285-0. 
Komara, Edward M. (2006). Encyclopedia of the Blues. New York City: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92699-8. 
Madsen, Pete (December 8, 2006). "Mojo master (interview with Taj Mahal)". Acoustic Guitar. 17 (6). 
Strong, M.C. (1998). The Great Rock Discography. Giunti. ISBN 88-09-21522-2. 
Tianen, Dave (January 12, 2003). "Taj Mahal a well-rounded blues scholar". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
Tipaldi, Art (2002). Children of the Blues: 49 Musicians Shaping a New Blues Tradition. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-700-5. 
Vickers, Tom (2003). Blues With a Feeling/The Very Best of Taj Mahal (album insert). Private Music/BMG Heritage. 
Weissman, Dick (2005). Which Side are You On?: An Inside History of the Folk Music Revival in America. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-1698-5. 
White, Timothy. "Taj mahal: a giant step ahead of his time". Billboard. 112. 
"Taj Mahal". Acoustic Magazine. 
External links
Taj Mahal on Internet Movie Database
Taj Mahal's official website
Billboard review of Maestro
Springfield, MASS raised Taj enters HOF
Taj Mahal Interview - NAMM Oral History Library (2016)

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal_(musician)