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Who Is Otis Taylor?

Otis Taylor is a critically acclaimed blues musician whose work speaks to the tragic, haunting legacy of America’s treatment of the disenfranchised, often, specifically, African-Americans. His songs provided emotional resonance in popular movies and hit television shows, and his albums have proved themselves to be a soundtrack to the darkest moments one can experience.

Yet, as he puts it in his official website’s biography, “I’m good at dark, but I’m not a particularly unhappy person. I’d just like to make enough money to buy a Porsche.” Furthermore, before his songs reached critical fame, he achieved a level of local celebrity in Denver, not for the genius of his music, but because, as a teenager, he rode to school on a unicycle while strumming his banjo.

Early Life

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1948, Otis Taylor was only a child when his uncle was shot to death. Seeking to raise their son in a safer environment, his parents moved the family to Denver. There, Taylor fell in love with blues music and the banjo. However, after learning of the racially charged history behind the popularity of the instrument, he developed his guitar and harmonica skills.

As a young man, Taylor toured Europe and North America as a professional musician, and played for a short time with Zephyr, with famed vocalist Candie Givens, and later with the Legendary 4Niktors. In 1977, Taylor stepped away from his passion to become an antique dealer. During this time, he also utilized his experience as a master unicyclist and coached a nationally ranked cycling team.

Music Career

It took until 1995 for Taylor to restart his musical career. He began by playing an intimate show in Boulder, and one year later he released his first album, “Blue-Eyed Monster.” His impactful second album, “When Negroes Walked the Earth,” brought critical acclaim and started a prolific period that saw him produce nine albums from 2001 to 2010, many with the Telarc International.

During this period, he also stretched the definition of blues, originating a fusion genre Taylor dubbed “trance-blues.” This musical form calls for repetitive looping beats that create space for urgent lyrics falling on the darker end of the emotional register.

Taylor brought this genre to the music festival space when he created and performed in the first ever Trance Blues Festival. Staying true to his Colorado roots, the festival plays every year in Boulder.

Over the years Taylor’s deep baritone voice and consistent push for expansion of the blues genera have earned him a number of prestigious accolades including, Down Beat magazine critics’ Poll that named “Taylor’s Truth is Not Fiction” as Blues CD of the Year for 2002 and Living Blues readers’ poll awarded him “Best Blues Entertainer” title in 2004. In 2005, Down Beat named Taylor’s “Double V” as Blues CD of the Year, “Definition of a Circle” as Blues CD of the Year for 2007 and “Recapturing the Banjo” as “Blues CD of the Year, 2008.”

Contact Colorado Music Hall of Fame

For more about Otis Taylor and other Colorado music legends, visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s website. As 2018 winds to a close and 2019 are about to begin, keep a close eye on the calendar for future musical events.

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Colorado Music Hall of Fame Commemorates Black History Month

Since 1976, February has been dedicated to recognizing and appreciating the achievements of African Americans in many different walks of life.

The Colorado Music Hall of Fame Presented by Comfort Dental celebrates the incredible contributions of African American musicians who have impacted Colorado and international music scene over the years. Many of these artists were either born in Colorado, studied here, or ended up in the area through their musical journeys. These artists have been powerful advocates for social issues, cultural issues, and entertained Colorado music fans and music lovers all across the country and throughout the world.

Back in November, the Jazz Masters & Beyond Induction Ceremony and Concert was a capstone event honoring some of the most prolific musicians from Colorado who have literally changed the course of music. Dianne Reeves, Charlie Burrell, three members from Earth, Wind & Fire, Ron Miles & Bill Frizell and the music department of East High School were the first inductees from the Jazz tradition who received awards for their contribution to the Colorado music scene.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves, an inductee in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, is at the forefront of producing and performing quality Jazz music since she started out in the 1970s. Inspired by her family’s deep musical background, Dianne Reeves has contributed significantly to the genre of Jazz around the world and in Colorado.

After studying at the University of Colorado, Reeves signed with Blue Note Records in 1987. She’s won two honorary doctorate awards, from Berklee in 2003 and Juilliard School of Music in 2015, and she has won 5 Grammy awards. She was featured in George Clooney’s movie “Good Night and Good Luck” as a featured singer and as the music of the soundtrack for the movie. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards. We were honored to celebrate Dianne Reeves as part of the Jazz Masters & Beyond class and for all of her incredible achievements and contributions.

Charlie Burrell

Charlie Burrell is widely known for being the first African-American to be a member of a major American symphony. For this accomplishment, he is often referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of Classical Music”. Born in 1920 in Ohio and raised in Detroit, Burrell was drawn to Colorado to be with family and where he joined the Denver Symphony that year. As one of the few black classical musicians of his time, Charlie Burrell pioneered his authentic sound and put the Colorado music scene on a national platform. He rose to prominence in the Denver Five Points Jazz scene by becoming the house bass player at the Rossonian Hotel. During those years he played with almost all of the legendary Jazz musicians of the time who came to Five Points including Billie Holiday, Erroll Garner, Charlie Parker, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, Lionel Hampton and Gene Harris to name only a few.

Burrell lived through the age of segregation in the US and was at the forefront of championing equal rights through his classical music background. He also served to bridge the gap between classical and Jazz with his groundbreaking and effortless transitions between the two fields. We celebrate Charlie Burrell during this Black History Month for all of his incredible contributions to Colorado and to the country.

George Morrison, Sr.

The late George Morrison, Sr., was born during the height of the “Jim Crow” era in this country (1891). His dream was always to play the violin in a major orchestra, but the rules of the day served to nullify that dream. However, Morrison, Sr., did not relent, and he later ended up forming an 11-piece band that ultimately caught the attention of Colombia records. His work and recordings served as a great inspiration for many black musicians who came after him. He became a light and inspiration along the path that black musicians would follow, breaking into every style and genera in our State and all across the US.

Earth, Wind & Fire

The CMHOF’s Black History Month celebration would not be complete without recognizing one of the most popular bands in the US and the world, Earth, Wind & Fire. Their unique fusion of jazz with soul, gospel, pop, and rock dominated the airwaves between 1973 and 1981 with seven Top 10 hits, 12 Grammy Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The supergroup’s Colorado connections run deep with East High graduates Phillip Bailey, Larry Dunn and Andrew Woolfolk being inducted into the Hall in November and the studio where they recorded their breakout hits, Caribou Ranch Recording Studio being inducted in August of 2017. The incredible sound of joy that EW&F brought to the world was of a celebration of both the power of funk and the power of their positive uplifting lyrics despite the difficulties we all face. It was and is the sound of remembering September and the “Shining Star” that lives both within the African American community and within all of us.

The Colorado Music Hall of Fame presented by Comfort Dental is proud and honored to celebrate the careers, contributions, and legacies of all these remarkable men and women during Black History Month.

And there is more to come including a celebration of Ron Miles and Bill Frizell and their upcoming concert this month.

 

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