- NAME: Taj Mahal
- OCCUPATION: Songwriter, Guitarist, Singer
- BIRTH DATE: May 17, 1942 (Age: 71)
- Did You Know?: The pop group the Pointer Sisters sang back-up for Taj Mahal during the early '70s; they later performed on his 1991 album.
- Did You Know?: Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt sang and played guitars together in an electrifying performance on The Today Show in 2009.
- EDUCATION: University of Massachusetts
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Harlem, New York
- Full Name: Henry Saint Clair Fredericks
- AKA: Henry Fredericks
- AKA: Taj Mahal
- AKA: Henry St. Clair Fredericks
- ZODIAC SIGN: Taurus
Best Known For
Taj Mahal is a Grammy Award-winning blues/world music vocalist and instrumentalist known for his trailblazing explorations of different genres.
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Taj Mahal was born in Harlem, New York, on May 17, 1942, and established a career as one of the world's premier blues artists. He's explored many genres from regions around the world, including the West Indies, India and Latin America, and recorded scores of albums, including Giant Step, Music Keeps Me Together and Hanapepe Dream. A Grammy Award winner, Mahal celebrated 40 years in the biz with Maestro.
"There was something about the blues that just full and wholly knocked me out... Instead of popular music creating me, I programmed myself for what I'm interested in."
"To me the music is sacred. Blues, gospel, jazz, Latin music, whatever the style, this stuff should flourish from generation to generation."
"We spoke several dialects in my house—Southern, Caribbean, African—and we heard dialects from eastern and western Europe."
"I wanted to pay homage to both of these wonderful people [Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes] by representing them a generation and a half later—and at the same time have it loose enough to still be me. The music had to be in touch with the old timers, and the new timers as well."
"Ry [Cooder] was one person I connected big-time with because he always heard the music. It wasn't the swagger or the stagger or the dark glasses or the pork pie hat or the look or the way you held your saxophone."
"We're gonna start out real smooth and take it to where we can't hardly stand it."
"I don't look at time in a linear sense. I view things in griot time, where a musician from five centuries ago can still sound fresh today."
"I don't see myself as stuck over here, and the natives are over there. I am the natives."
"The one thing I've always demanded of the records I've made is that they be danceable."
"I didn't want to fall into the trap of complacency. I wanted to keep pushing the musical ideas I had about jazz, music from Africa and the Caribbean. I wanted to explore the connections between different kinds of music."
Blues/world music artist Taj Mahal was born Henry Saint Clair Fredericks in Harlem, New York, on May 17, 1942, to a musical family; his father was a jazz pianist/composer and his mother was a singer and teacher. The family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts during Fredericks's youth, and he grew up in a rich, diverse cultural environment. A singer, he went on to learn a variety of instruments, including the piano, clarinet and harmonica, taking up the guitar and bass as well and learning blues styles.
He earned a degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1964, focusing on agriculture, and worked with bands, including the Rising Sons with Ry Cooder. Fredericks took on the performance name Taj Mahal after the moniker came to him in a dream, and he made his solo debut in 1968 with an album of the same name. The Natch'l Blues (1968) and Giant Step (1969) soon followed.
A statuesque, emotional presence onstage who feels the music wholly in his body, Mahal has become known for exploring a wide range of genres and earned a reputation as a musicologist with attention paid to the cultural origins of song, including his own Caribbean and African-American/Southern roots (captured in his song "West Indian Revelation" for instance) as well as other communities from around the world. His music has incorporated the sounds of the Pacific Isles, South Asia and West and East Africa, among others.
Mahal has released dozens of albums over the course of his career, including Happy to Be Just Like I Am (1971), Music Fuh Ya' (Music Para Tu) (1977), Taj (1987), Dancing the Blues (1993) and Mkutano (2005). He has also recorded work for children on the Music for Little People label, such as Shake Sugaree (1988), Peace Is the World Smiling (1989) and Smilin' Island of Song (1992).
Mahal wed Inshirah Geter in 1976 and by the '80s had settled in Hawaii. His works influenced by his adopted home state include Sacred Island (1998) and Hanapepe Dream (2003), performing on both recordings with The Hula Blues Band.
Mahal has also worked in film, appearing as an actor in Sounder (1972) and Sounder: Part Two (1976), composing the musical scores for both as well as for the 1977 film Brothers. He later made his mark on Broadway, composing a score for the 1991 play Mule Bone, written by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston decades before its contemporary stage debut.
By 2013, Mahal had won two Grammy Awards, both for best contemporary blues album—1997's Señor Blues and 2000's Shoutin' in Key: Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band Live. In 2008 he released the album Maestro, celebrating 40 years as a recording artist and working with an all-star roster that included Ben Harper, Ziggy Marley and Angélique Kidjo. Mahal followed up in 2009 with American Horizon, featuring Mexican/Californian band Los Cenzontles and Los Lobos musician David Hidalgo.
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