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Billy Taylor Donates to Library of Congress

The intense, tomblike silence of libraries has inspired many young men and women to make some noise. Pianist and educator Billy Taylor, for one, was inspired by the wealth of materials in the Library of Congress during his days as a schoolboy in Washington, D.C. And after a lifetime of playing, teaching and advocacy for jazz in America, he donated a major portion of his papers and recordings to the library in a ceremony on Oct. 5, as a way to celebrate his 81st birthday. (His birthday is actually July 24th, but the Library is not calling the gift overdue.)

While he was growing up, Taylor told The Washington Post, “I became a library freak. I lived on Fairmount Street near a branch of the public library, and I have a strong positive feeling about libraries.” His gift includes 3,000 recordings of varying provenance and a whopping 12,000 pieces of paper, including music scores, photographs, programs, and travel receipts from State Department-sponsored jazz tours. “I am kind of a squirrel, yet I thought someone else may come along and be interested in what happened in my lifetime,” Taylor said.

The donation bolsters the Library’s position as a major source of jazz-related archival materials; the current collection includes copyright materials for Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and George Gershwin. Jon Newsom, chief of the library’s music division, was pleased with the gift and the man who gave it. “Billy Taylor takes the prize for leadership he has shown in music,” he said. “To have his collection is to have everything. And people want to know everything, the business staff, the correspondence about the music. His materials are the real heart of the subject.”

Originally Published