The Taj Mahal arrives in Truro

In May, Taj Mahal turned 80 – and everyone knows the blues only get better with age.

Taj Mahal has helped define and develop American blues music for more than half a century. (Photo courtesy of Taj Mahal)

One of the last of a generation from America’s golden age of blues music, Mahal is revered not only as a master performer, but also as a scholar of black music, brimming with anecdotes about the history of the music he plays. The Taj Mahal Trio will perform on Sunday September 18 at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro.

So where does this name come from? “A seed of my new name was planted by my parents,” he says in his 2001 Autobiography of a Bluesman. “They told me I could do anything I wanted in this life, instead of saying, ‘You’re black and it’s going to be hard on you. You’ll never make it.'” (His original name was Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr.)

In this same book, his brother Richard Fredericks adds to the story: He says that when Henry first went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for his freshman year, he came back to Springfield for a visit and proclaimed that his new name was Henry, with a French accent. A month later he came back home and said his name was Taj Mahal. You could say it was a case of a freshman identity crisis if it weren’t for the fact that blues musicians have a long tradition of taking on new names for themselves, from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Scrapper Blackwell.

Born to a Harlem father of Caribbean ancestry and a South Carolina mother, Mahal spent much of his youth in Springfield, where he attended West Springfield High School and later Westfield High to study linguist. professional farming. In his autobiography, he argues that western Massachusetts and Boston had a strong Southern blues culture because runaway slaves made the abolitionist country their home in the antebellum era.

After his father died when Mahal was 12, he started working on tobacco and dairy farms. He had already started playing the guitar and would sometimes disappear for hours to play in the fields, where his brother Winston would find him and sit to listen.

In the early 1960s, Mahal left college and began playing in Boston, Cambridge and New York, where he was influenced by the music of Mississippi John Hurt and Elizabeth Cotten. He moved to Los Angeles, where he joined a cultural scene of musicians who mixed traditional American music with rock and rhythm and blues.

His 1968 self-titled album included covers of several traditional songs (including Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues”, originally recorded in 1928) that were electrified with the energy of a new era. Mahal continued to innovate and develop his music over the following decades, frequently revisiting traditional styles from his youth while exploring Caribbean and other black diaspora music – as well as Hawaiian music, with his Hula Blues Band. .

The result is a lifetime of musical innovation and profound artistry that audiences will have a rare opportunity to experience for themselves in North Truro this weekend.

Only getting better and better

The event: The Taj Mahal Trio in concert
Time: Sunday, Sept. 18, 3 p.m.
The place: Payomet Performing Arts Center, 29 Old Dewline Road, Truro
The cost: $55 to $85 at tickets.payomet.org

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