Taj Mahal (Henry St. Claire Fredericks) (1942- )

Taj Mahal, 2005
Courtesy pixgremlin (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Blues, jazz, and folk musician Taj Mahal was born Henry St. Claire Fredericks in Harlem, New York on May 17, 1942.   He was raised in Springfield, Massachusetts by musically gifted parents. Mahal’s father was a jazz musician and his mother a gospel singer.  As a child, Mahal learned how to play various instruments, such as the piano, harmonica, clarinet, and guitar.

Mahal attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst during the early 1960s. He played in the institution’s band, the Electras. Mahal became a blues performer who specializes in a variety of musical genres, including country blues, reggae, jazz, rhythm and blues, ragtime and folk music. As a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and composer, he plays the guitar, harmonica, and banjo. Mahal has traveled the globe, and has learned to fuse different nontraditional forms of music into blues.

After graduating in 1964, Mahal moved to Los Angeles, California and formed the Rising Sons, which consisted of Ry Cooder, Ed Cassidy, Jesse Lee Kinkaid, Gary Marker, and Kevin Kelly. After signing a contract with Columbia Records, the Rising Sons broke up before releasing their first album. Mahal still stayed with Columbia, releasing three records: Taj Mahal (1968), The Natch’l Blues (1969), and Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home (1969).

From the 1960s and into the 1970s, Mahal produced a total of twelve albums for Columbia, and in 1976, he left the record company for Warner Brother Records. With Warner Brothers, he scored the film Brothers in 1977. In 1980, Mahal moved to the Island of Kauai in Hawaii and formed the Hula Blues Band, which toured the Island.   The group blended traditional Hawaiian music and blues. His release of Taj in 1987 returned him to the musical scene in the 1990s.

Mahal made a comeback in the early 1990s, touring and releasing numerous albums. In 1991, he made a musical score for the Langston Hughes/ Zora Neale Hurston play, Mule Bone, along with the movie Zebrahead (1992). Later in the decade, he made three more albums, including the Grammy-award winning Senior Blues (1997). Mahal released another Grammy-award winning album, Shoutin’ in Key in 2000. He continues to tour globally, performing in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.