John Taylor, dancer and songwriter who entertained scores of children as Kinderman, dies at 82

John Taylor, a popular song-and-dance man who created the role of the Kinderman as he performed in a derby and bow tie for children, died of heart disease Saturday at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Columbia.

The Columbia resident was 82.

"Some people tell me I'm lucky, but this career isn't about luck, " Mr. Taylor said in a 2012 interview in The Baltimore Sun, when he received a lifetime achievement award from the Howard County Arts Council. "It's my purpose in life to be doing what I'm doing."

He also said: "Kids don't remember people's names. But they do remember Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. So, I became Kinderman. I even bought an old limo and made it into the Kindermobile.”

At his peak, Mr. Taylor performed in 500 shows a year and was a well-known presence in his home base of Howard County and throughout the region.

“He was energetic, humorous and full of life,” said his niece, Jackie Taylor of Baltimore. “And he loved people.”

John Leroy Taylor was born in Baltimore and raised on Bentalou Street, the son of John Taylor and Hazel Branche Burrell, who owned a Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant.

His mother was a dancer, and Mr. Taylor recalled a childhood filled with his parents' friends who came together to dance, play cards and eat. He also said his mother performed on the stage of the old Royal Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue in the old African-American business and entertainment district.

“As a precocious 4-year-old, Taylor danced for the adults and they threw money at him, coins he saved in a piggy bank to buy a fire engine,” noted The Sun’s 2012 article.

He was a graduate of Frederick Douglass High School. As a young man he joined a dance troupe and won a $25 first-place award for his skills.

"I just knew I was 'it' after that; I believed my own press," he said in 2012.

He went to New York, but was rejected for a part in "West Side Story.” In 1971 he was cast in the European touring company of “Hair,” but declined the role because of the musical comedy’s nude scene.

He obtained a bachelor’s degree at Morgan State University. He also received a master’s degree in art education from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

In the late 1950s he began teaching in Catonsville for the Baltimore County school system, and later taught in Anne Arundel County. He was a school teacher for 18 years, but returned to dance and found his niche when the disco craze surfaced in the 1970s. He formed a business, the John Taylor Experience.

Mr. Taylor rented public spaces, such as the Pikesville Hilton ballroom and the Disco Palace in Columbia, and led the dancing. He was known as the Disco King. He taught the Bump and the Hustle.

“Strobe lights flash in white-heat sequences, bathing the room in surrealistic light,” said a 1978 Sun article about Mr. Taylor. “Everyone appears to be swaying in slow motion in the midst of white flame madness. Someone grabs a tambourine and shakes it. Shouts of ‘Fever, Fever.’ Disco fever and the John Taylor Experience ignite the room.”

As disco cooled, Mr. Taylor changed his teaching to capitalize on the dance aerobic trend.

By 1987 he had moved on and found an audience with young people. A headline in The Sun said: “Disco King changes his teaching tempo to children,” and one article referred to him as “Baltimore’s answer to Mr. Rogers.”

He established a teaching base in Columbia’s neighborhood centers.

"God keeps leading me through various things and hearing the Spirit is just like listening to the radio,” he said.

He determined entertaining children was his calling.

"At first I thought everyone could improvise and write songs the way I could," he said. "But I soon understood that I could have a great impact on children's lives."

He became associated with the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and its early learning institute, and told The Sun in 2012: "Wolf Trap taught me how to market myself, and the makeover into Kinderman followed four years later.”

He had appeared on WJZ-TV with Oprah Winfrey and Richard Scherr on “People Are Talking,” and later had a show on WMAR-TV, “It's Kindertime,” that ran for six years and won three local Emmys. After its run, the station aired “The Kinderman Show.”

Mr. Taylor performed for decades at venues ranging from The Mall in Columbia to the city’s Artscape, and at church events, festivals, conferences and schools.

“We’re gonna have a good time. We’re gonna disturb the peace,” he sang in one routine.

“And if we have too much fun, we’re gonna call the po-lice.”

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Sept. 20 at the Columbia Baptist Fellowship, 5885 Robert Oliver Place, where he was a member. He also attended Always Abiding in God Ministries in Jessup.

In addition to his niece, survivors include his brother, Randolph Taylor of Washington.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of the memorial service. It has been corrected here.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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