Taj Mahal (born Henry Saint Clair Fredericks) is a world-renowned blues guitarist. Though he was born in Harlem, New York, Mahal grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts to a musical family. Mahal's father played piano and his mother was a singer, and both of them introduced him to many different styles of music at a very early age, particularly that of jazz musicians like Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. He became interested in the roots of black American and Caribbean music while studying animal husbandry at the University of Massachusetts in the early-'60s.
After receiving his B.A., Mahal played blues in Boston folk clubs before moving to California and forming a short-lived blues rock band with Ry Cooder and Jessie Lee Kincaid called the Rising Sons. While living in Santa Monica, Taj Mahal played with greats like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf, and, in 1968, he recorded and released his self-titled, debut album through Columbia Records. In 1968, he also landed a gig with the Rolling Stones, playing in their concert documentary The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
After 12 albums with Columbia, Taj Mahal jumped ship to Warner Bros. He recorded three albums for the label, but by the late-'70s and '80s, the blues' popularity began to wane. Disillusioned with the music business, Mahal moved to Hawai'i and formed a group called the Hula Blues Band. To his surprise, the group developed a sizable following and soon he was back on the road. He continued to record and tour from his home base on Kauai, Hawai'i.
Taj Mahal is widely seen as one of finest blues guitarists of the latter part of the 20th century. Though he is known for his finger-picking, he plays many of leads with a standard flatpick. Taj Mahal is also known for integrating musical influences from all over the world into his playing, especially the sounds of the Caribbean and West Africa. He has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards, winning two—the 1997 and 2000 Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammys for Señor Blues and Shoutin' In Key, respectively. While some think he took his stage name from the famous mausoleum in India, in fact, Mahal claims the name came to him in a dream he had about Gandhi. Wherever his name may have come from, Taj Mahal made it synonymous with blues excellence.