Tom Terrell, a journalist and photographer who applied his inimitable style to coverage of jazz, world music, hip-hop, reggae, R&B and rock, died Nov. 29th in Washington, D.C. He was 57 and the cause was prostate and bone cancer. He had been in a coma for two days when he passed.
Terrell was diagnosed a year and a half ago and had gone into remission, but the disease returned recently. He had been receiving treatment at the Lombardi Cancer Center in Georgetown but chose to stop chemotherapy last month.
A former club and radio DJ (he was considered by many to be the most influential DJ in Washington during the 1980s), promo man for Mango/Antilles Records and in-house publicist for the Verve Music Group, Terrell came late to music journalism, beginning his writing career in 1996. His idiosyncratic writing and voluminous knowledge endeared him to editors, and he became a regular contributor to JazzTimes as well as Global Rhythm, Vibe, Essence, Trace, The Village Voice, Washington’s City Paper, Jazziz and Seconds, among others. Terrell’s musical taste was eclectic and vast. He might at any given time extol the virtues of a particular roots reggae, primal blues, punk rock, challenging jazz, Afrobeat, hip-hop, progressive rock or vintage R&B artist, in a witty, original and lively manner unlike that of any other music journalist.
In addition to his journalism, Terrell also contributed to the books The Vibe History of Hip Hop, Men of Color and Transculturalism. He reviewed jazz for NPR’s All Things Considered, was the music director for the XM satellite radio channel World Zone, and penned liner notes, most recently for the six-CD Miles Davis boxed set The Complete On the Corner Sessions. He also wrote about travel and other favorite pursuits. A photographer since attending Howard University (which was where he also began DJing), he often supplied his own photos for articles he’d written. He was working on a memoir, Bitches, Blips & Bops: 40 Years Lost in Music, as well as a book about early rock and roll history at the time of his death.
A benefit concert to aid with Terrell’s medical bills was held in New York last fall, featuring such musician friends as Greg Osby, Angelique Kidjo, Kenny Barron, Meshell Ndegeocello, Vernon Reid and many others. Another benefit was held in D.C. in July.
Photo courtesy of Jimmy Saal.