02/26/03
Taj Mahal
    by John Cech

One of our country's best bluesmen, who keeps getting better every year, is Taj Mahal, who found the blues when he was a teenager and it changed his life. He grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, the oldest in a family of nine children, the son of a gospel singer (his mother) and a composer (his father); and earned a degree in agriculture and animal husbandry before starting a band, the Rising Sons, with the guitarist Ry Cooder, and becoming one of leaders of the blues revival movement in the 1960s through his own reinterpretations of those powerful sources. But his musical vocabulary isn't limited to a particular genre; he's performed with many of the big names in Rock and Regae, R & B and Folk. He scored the Broadway musical Mule Bone, by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston; he acted in movies, and he's produced, among his dozens of albums, several classic groupings of songs for children.

One of these CDs, Shake Sugaree, is loaded with covers for national and international standards -- songs that children need to absorb, like milk , like the alphabet -- there's "Fishin' Blues," a "Talkin' John Henry," and the wonderful Gambian peddler's song, "Quavi, Quavi":

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His most recent work for children, "Shakin' A Tailfeather," with Linda Tillery, Eric Bibb, and the Cultural Heritage Choir, continues Taj's abiding concern for educating a new generation of children about their musical heritage, recent and distant, pop and traditional -- kids' street songs like "Rockin'Robin" and "This A Way Valerie", and adult works like the song about the journey to freedom on the underground railroad, "Follow the Drinking Gourd":

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And who can resist that Johnny Otis classic for every age, "Willie and the Hand Jive," to take us out -- certainly not Taj and certainly not us. It makes you want to get up and dance, and that, for kids and adults, is the point:

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Copyright 2003 John Cech

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