Mural of jazz artist Billy Taylor dedicated at Whirligig Stage
Saturday, June 15, 2019
An exterior side wall at the Whirligig Stage is looking a lot jazzier than it ever has before.
That’s because the theater, located on South Pitt Street, now boasts a mural of local jazz legend Billy Taylor, a Greenville native who was the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor of Music at East Carolina University.
Music lovers and fans of Taylor gathered for the dedication of the mural late Friday afternoon in the theater’s parking lot.
Speaking at the dedication ceremony was Jason Coale, the executive director of Whirligig, who put together the design for the mural — a larger-than-life image of Taylor at the piano.
“We had a lot of folks helping us out, interns and employees of Whirligig Stage, as well as volunteers,” Coale said.
“Several of them came out today to see the piece finally done,” Coale said. “It took a lot of hands to put (the painting) on the brick.”
For example, Ned Puchner, former executive director of the Greenville Museum of Art, helped paint the keys down at the bottom of the mural, Coale said.
Before any painting could begin, Coale designed a fully developed rendering of what it was going to look like. It took about a week and a half to get the mural on the wall.
While working, the crew had to battle stormy weather this past week. They would set up scaffolding and then have to take it down because of lightning, Coale said.
A mural of this type can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 to produce, depending on the artist, when materials and labor are factored in, Coale said. However, this creation cost a lot less because of the efforts of so many volunteers.
Coale said that he became interested in featuring Taylor in the mural because of the theater’s work with ECU Jazz and Carroll Dashiell, an associate professor of music at ECU.
“They come out for a lot of our Jazz Nights on First Fridays,” Coale said.
“We wanted to find some native Greenville performing artists that we could showcase and remind people of their legacy,” Coale said.
Dashiell’s first response was “Oh, it’s gotta be Billy Taylor,” Coale said.
Billy Taylor was a prominent performer in jazz history as well as at ECU, Coale said. Artists that are playing today are descendants of his performance style.
ECU is able to get musicians and guests of high quality as a result of Taylor’s continued legacy and the work that Dashiell has done to keep it going, he said.
Dashiell also spoke at the mural’s dedication.
In addition to teaching at ECU, Dashiell is the founder and director of the Billy Taylor Jazz Festival which is held at ECU each spring. He was also scheduled to perform on Friday night at the Greenville Grooves Musical Festival at the Town Common.
“We close the Jazz Festival each year with Taylor’s composition, ‘I Wish I knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,’” Dashiell said.
Taylor wrote the song for his daughter and played it at the request of Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights era, Dashiell said. Other than “We Shall Overcome,” it is probably one of the most recognized pieces in the world from the civil rights movement, Dashiell said.
The mural project was a collaboration between the Whirligig Stage, the Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Dashiell, Coale said.
“It has meant so much to us to be able to present this,” Coale said of the mural, which is easily visible from the street.
“People are already stopping and telling us that they love this in the neighborhood,” he said.