Taj Mahal in 2005
||Henry Saint Clair Fredericks
|Also known as
||May 17, 1942
Harlem, New York, United States
||Blues, World music, rhythm and blues, blues rock, soul blues,jazz blues, country blues, delta blues, electric blues, reggae,reggae fusion
||Ruf, Columbia Records
Warner Bros. Records
Private Music, RCA Victor
||The Rising Sons
The Phantom Blues Band
The Hula Blues Band
The Taj Mahal Trio
Henry Saint Clair Fredericks (born May 17, 1942), who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an AmericanGrammy Award-winning 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 theSouth Pacific.
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 the 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.
Taj Mahal at the Museumsquartier in Vienna (Jazz-Fest Wien) in 2007
Because his father was a musician, his house was frequently the host of other musicians from the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States. 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 withclassical piano lessons. He also studied the clarinet, trombone andharmonica. 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 that 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 farmforeman, 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 arhythm and blues band called Taj Mahal & The Elektras and, before heading for the West Coast, he was also part of a duo with Jessie Lee Kincaid.