Otis Taylor’s journey as a renowned blues artist was shaped by a pivotal moment in his teenage years. When he was 17 and attending a high school in Denver, he faced a difficult choice: “cut your hair or leave.” Unwilling to compromise his individuality and expression, Taylor made the bold decision to leave school, setting him on a path that would ultimately lead to musical greatness. Now, more than fifty years later, he has finally received the recognition he longed for—a high school diploma.
Born in Chicago and raised in Denver, Taylor experienced the pervasive racial discrimination prevalent in public schools during the ’60s. At that time, officials had the authority to make decisions based on hair, and there were no laws in place to prevent such discrimination.
Taylor, who sported a “James Brown haircut,” found himself caught in the crosshairs of a school district that demanded conformity.
Refusing to relinquish his freedom of expression, Taylor left school with a singular purpose—to pursue his music and carve out his own path. He vividly remembers the day he walked away, feeling a mix of liberation and uncertainty about what lay ahead. California became his initial destination, where he reunited with his father.
It wasn’t long before Taylor’s talent caught the attention of Blue Horizon Records, leading to a recording contract and a journey to London. Ultimately, he returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he intermittently played music and garnered a devoted following, earning fellowships and prestigious awards along the way.
Last week marked a significant milestone in Taylor’s life as he received his long-awaited high school diploma. The graduation ceremony became a moment of triumph and a chance to rectify past failures. Auon’tai Anderson, the Denver School Board vice president, addressed the gathering, emphasizing that what Taylor and others experienced would no longer be tolerated in Colorado. It was a symbolic step toward progress and equality.
While the diploma holds great significance, Taylor remains grounded and focuses on the positive aspects of his life. He acknowledges the wrongs he has faced as a Black man in America but refuses to let regret overshadow the joys and accomplishments that have come his way. His children attended college, he shares a loving and enduring marriage with his wife of 37 years, and his musical career has been filled with success. Taylor’s resilience and determination have carried him through adversity, instilling in him a profound appreciation for the life he has led.
Looking forward, Taylor contemplates new horizons. With his diploma finally in hand, he humorously suggests the possibility of applying to the Berklee School of Music—a testament to his unwavering passion for music and his enduring thirst for knowledge and growth. As he continues to inspire others with his talent and resilience, Otis Taylor stands as a testament to the power of pursuing one’s dreams and embracing individuality in the face of adversity.