William Taylor (July 24, 1921 – December 28, 2010) was an American jazz pianist, composer, broadcaster and educator. He was the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor of Music at East Carolina University in Greenville, and from 1994 was the artistic director for jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
A jazz activist, Taylor sat on the Honorary Founders Board of The Jazz Foundation of America, an organisation he started in 1989, with Ann Ruckert, Herb Storfer and Phoebe Jacobs, to save the homes and the lives of America’s elderly jazz and blues musicians, later including musicians who survived Hurricane Katrina.
Taylor was also a jazz educator, who lectured in colleges, served on panels and travelled worldwide as a jazz ambassador. Critic Leonard Feather once said, “It is almost indisputable that Dr. Billy Taylor is the world’s foremost spokesman for jazz.”
Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina, but moved to Washington, D.C., when he was five years old. He grew up in a musical family and learned to play different instruments as a child, including guitar, drums and saxophone. He was most successful at the piano, and had classical piano lessons with Henry Grant, who had educated Duke Ellington a generation earlier. Taylor made his first professional appearance playing keyboard at the age of 13 and was paid one dollar.