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Jazz legend Billy Taylor dead at 89

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Jazz musician Billy Taylor died Tuesday at the age of 89
  • Taylor died of heart failure, according to his daughter
  • Taylor composed over 350 songs
  • Taylor composed the civil rights song "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free"

(CNN) -- Billy Taylor, one of the most influential American jazz musicians of the second half of the twentieth century, died Tuesday at the age of 89, according to a statement posted on his official Web site.

Taylor passed away in New York due to heart failure, his daughter Kim Taylor-Thompson noted in the statement.

Over the course his career, Taylor composed more than 350 songs, including "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," an unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement.

He created his own record label -- "Taylor Made" -- in 1989, according to the statement. His last two recordings were released in the late 1990s on another Taylor label, "Soundpost Records."

Taylor, who grew up in Washington, D.C., started as a professional piano player in 1944. He initially made his mark on New York's 52nd Street with Ben Webster's Quartet. He shared the stage at the famous Birdland club with a host of other jazz greats, including Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, the statement noted.

Taylor gained a wider audience hosting jazz programs two New York radio stations, WLIB and WNEW. He went on to become an arts correspondent for the CBS show "Sunday Morning."

One of only three jazz musicians to serve on the National Council of the Arts, Taylor won two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, and a Grammy, among other awards. He also received the National Medal of the Arts.

Taylor earned a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

He is survived by wife, Theodora, and his daughter.