Taj Mahal’s music has almost alone reshaped the definition and scope of the blues by means of the infusion of exotic tunes from the Caribbean, Africa and South Pacific.
Born in Harlem, New York but raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father was a jazz pianist, composer, arranger hailing from Jamaica, while his mother was a teacher who sang gospel. She came from North Carolina. His grandfather married a woman from Saint Kitts.
He studied agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the early 1960s, graduating in 1964. (The same university awarded him the honorary title of Doctor of Fine Arts in 2006). There he founded Taj Mahal & Elektras. The name Taj Mahal was inspired by a dream.
After college, he moved to Los Angeles and founded the Rising Sons group with Ry Cooder in 1964. The band signed with Columbia Records and released a single and recorded an album that was not released by Columbia until 1992. Taj, frustrated by mixed feelings about his music, left the band and began a solo career. Still, with Columbia Records, he released an album of his own name in 1968, building on his success, he released a second Natch’l Blues the same year. The Giant Step two-track set released in 1969 resulted in Taj’s strong position as an American blues artist, and the title track has become iconic and is still popular with current audiences. Most memorable, however, was the performance of Cooder and Taj at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
His music comes from various sources: blues, cajun, gospel, bluegrass, Hawaiian, African, and Caribbean musical traditions. It sticks to the roots and adds a little bit of its own feeling. Plays many musical instruments.
He has received two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Blues Album, the first in 1997 for Señor Blues and the second in 2000 for Shoutin ‘In Key.
He has made soundtracks for many films, including Sounder and Blues Brothers 2000, in which he also appeared.
In 2006, he guest-starred on electric guitar with Ladysmith Black Mambazo while recording the album Long Walk to Freedom
In 2013 he supported Hugh Laurie vocally on the album Didn’t It Rain, in the song “Vicksburg Blues”.