In the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination 45 years ago, a song poured out of Gene Taylor. Mr. Taylor was an accomplished and highly respected Jazz bassist who’d earned his reputation playing with the quintet of pianist Horace Silver, among other greats. He was known for his instrumental prowess–not as a songwriter. But when the tragedy took place, he took all of the pain, anger, sadness, confusion, outrage and a myriad of other emotions felt by millions of people, and poured it into song. At the time, he was working with the legendary singer, songwriter, pianist and activist Nina Simone, and the band was preparing for a concert at Westbury Music Fair. Simone, herself no stranger to powerful lyrics, had success with her song “Mississippi Goddam’.
Taylor introduced the song to her and the band, and there was no question that it had to be performed. The entire concert became a tribute to the memory of Dr. King, with Taylor’s song being the centerpiece of the evening’s performance. It’s hard to imagine how they had the wherewithal to play it, given the emotions that must have been running through them–and everyone–on that night. Even listening to it 45 years later, it has a powerful impact on the listener. If it’s your first time hearing it, you’ll feel that impact. I would transcribe the lyrics, but I think it’s better if you let them unfold for you as Nina sings them. It remains one of the finest songs ever recorded by the late singer, and one of the greatest tributes to the slain leader ever written. Nina and Gene are both gone now. Thankfully for us, they took that terrible, horrible, awful moment in time and poured their hearts and souls into a masterpiece for all time: “Why? (The King of Love is Dead).”