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Henry Saint Clair Fredericks (born May 17, 1942), who goes by the stage name Taj Mahal, is an internationally recognized blues musician who folds various forms of world music into his offerings. A self-taught singer-songwriter and film composer who plays the guitar, 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 the South Pacific.
Born 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, 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 Future Farmers of America, 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 a rhythm 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.
In 1964 he moved to Santa Monica, California and formed The Rising Sons with fellow blues musician Ry Cooder and Jessie Lee Kincaid, landing a record deal with Columbia Records soon after. The group was one of the first interracial bands of the period, which likely made them commercially unviable. An album was never released (though a single was) and the band soon broke up, though Legacy Records did release The Rising Sons Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder in 1993 with material from that period. During this time Mahal was working with others, musicians like Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Muddy Waters. Mahal stayed with Columbia after The Rising Sons to begin his solo career, releasing the self-titled Taj Mahal in 1968, The Natch'l Blues in 1969, and Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home (also in 1969).During this time he and Cooder worked with the The Rolling Stones, with whom he has performed at various times throughout his career . In 1968, he performed in the film The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. He recorded a total of twelve albums for Columbia Records from the late 1960s into the 1970s. His work of the 1970s was especially important, in that his releases began incorporating West Indian and Caribbean music, jazz and reggae into the mix. In 1972 he wrote the film score for the movie Sounder, which starred Cicely Tyson.
In 1976 Mahal left Columbia Records and signed with Warner Bros. Records, recording three albums for them. One of these was another film score for 1977's Brothers; the album shares the same name. After his time with Warner Bros. Records he struggled to find another record contract, this being the era of heavy metal and disco music. Stalled in his career, he decided to move to Kauai, Hawaii in 1981 and soon formed The Hula Blues Band. Originally just a group of guys getting together for fishing and a good time, the band soon began performing regularly right up until Doomsday.
Mahal was fortunate to survive Doomsday but was forced to place his music career on hold while struggling with his friends and bandmates to survive under the Marxist style food rations implemented by the new government of Hawaii. It was not until 1991 that he finally returned to his passion for music. He soon began to tour around the Hawaiian islands and was invited to perform at ANZC Day celebrations in 1997 where he gained a cult following.
Mahal moved with his band members to Auckland in 2000 where at the age of 65 he still continues to tour regularly around the ANZC and has plans for a North American tour in 2011.
Mahal's music since Doomsday has been somewhat influenced by the events of those fateful days but he said in an interview "While I have written some songs about it (Doomsday) I don't perform many of them because the people who see me play want to sing, laugh, dance and have a great time not be reminded of one of the saddest, most depressing days on this earth."
- 1968 - Taj Mahal
- 1968 - The Natch'l Blues
- 1969 - Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home
- 1971 - Happy Just to Be Like I Am
- 1973 - Oooh So Good 'n Blues
- 1974 - Mo' Roots
- 1975 - Music Keeps Me Together
- 1976 - Satisfied 'N Tickled Too
- 1976 - Music Fuh Ya' (Musica Para Tu)
- 1977 - Brothers (Soundtrack)
- 1977 - Evolution
- 1991 - Taj
- 1991 - Shake Sugaree
- 1991 - Mule Bone
- 1992 - Like Never Before
- 1993 - Dancing the Blues
- 1995 - Mumtaz Mahal
- 1996 - Phantom Blues
- 1997 - Señor Blues
- 1998 - Sacred Island aka Hula Blues (with The Hula Blues Band)
- 1999 - Kulanjan
- 2003 - Hanapepe Dream
- 2005 - Mkutano Meets the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar
- 2008 - Maestro
- 1971 - The Real Thing
- 1972 - Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff
- 1979 - Live & Direct
- 1993 - Live at Ronnie Scott's
- 1996 - An Evening of Acoustic Music
- 2000 - Live in Brisbane
- 2004 - Live Catch
- 1980 - Going Home
- 1981 - The Best of Taj Mahal, Volume 1
- 1994 - Taj's Blues
- 1998 - In Progress & In Motion: 1965-1998
- 1999 - Blue Light Boogie
- 2000 - The Best of Taj Mahal
- 2000 - The Best of the Private Years
- 2003 - Blues with a Feeling: The Very Best of Taj Mahal
- 2005 - The Essential Taj Mahal