Earl T. Taylor, a Baton Rouge-born singer best known for lending his operatic tenor at Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration, died Wednesday morning from complications of cancer.
He was 80.
Taylor’s singing was beloved, from the Sunday spirituals he sang at Mount Zion First Baptist Church, to appearances over more than five decades with the Baton Rouge Community Choir.
Family legend has it he sang before he could speak, singing the hymns he heard in church.
“He knew the songs and the words,” his wife, Lelia Taylor, said. “He wouldn’t talk. He would just sing, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.’ ”
When they met in high school, he was a junior who played on the Capitol Senior High football team and was hanging out with another football player. She was a sophomore at rival Southern University high school.
“He saw me and started talking to me, and the other fellow got left behind,” she recalled with a laugh.
But she’d already heard of him. He was a mini-celebrity after appearing on Ted Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour,” an early ’50s radio and TV show, a forerunner to modern talent shows like “American Idol.”
“Practically all the people in town had made arrangements to find a radio and a TV where we could hear,” she remembered. “We just hunched together and listened.”
Taylor’s career included a stint in the military, 10 years as a civics teacher at Scotlandville High and 35 years at Southern University as the statewide director of its Reach and Teach adult literacy program.
Taylor’s singing, however, was a constant.
The Rev. T.J. Jemison would bring Taylor to sing for him on church activities outside of town. Taylor also sang in local theater productions, his last one playing Old Deuteronomy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.” His love of drama also led to small film roles in the 1967 movie “Hurry Sundown” and the 1989 movie “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”
In 1988, during the Cold War, he sang “Let There Be Peace On Earth” to a group of 50 visiting dignitaries from the Soviet Union.
Reminded of this, his oldest daughter, Eileen Taylor, started to cry.
“Some of the last words he said to me were, ‘Let there be peace on earth,’ ” she said, stifling tears.
Besides his wife of 55 years, Taylor leaves behind five children and nine grandchildren.
Carney and Mackey Funeral Home, (225) 774-0390, is handling the arrangements. Visitation is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at Mount Zion First Baptist Church, 356 East Blvd., and resumes Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., followed by the funeral service and interment.