Larry's Story: Of Blues and Faith

Larry look upOf Blues and Faith: Larry's Story

From Bilal Muhammad al Shabazz , Chicago bluesman known as Larry Taylor:

I’ve been a Chicago bluesman, singing and playing drums professionally for 40 years. Like many other Black men in Chicago, my life has not been easy.  Not only was I born here, but my enslaved ancestors built this country. 

Blues is the music of my people, it helps us survive against the injustices, the insults and the economic role the System has put us into. Like Fred Hampton, who I knew as a youth growing up on the West Side of Chicago, I have fought against this all my life.  The System has fought me back, trying to keep me in the criminal justice system and trying to keep me from making a living.

I would never have made it this far without the help of God and the faith I came to by way of Islam.

I have been out of prison since 1977 and have never gone back. As a husband and a father,  I have raised children and helped with children.  I have led bands, recorded my songs, and performed for international audiences.

I have attempted to tell my story, in my autobiography Stepson of the Blues, published in a limited edition in 2010. Since then all of us have learned many things, from living our lives and following the news.  So I want to tell my story now, for us to think about and act on today.

Consciously every human being should know right from wrong. There’s only two roads in life to go—a righteous road and a wicked road.  When God created Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White, He created us all to have equal rights—no race is superior over another. The word “Islam” means total submission to God, and it’s no different if that individual is of Jewish or Christian faith. God gave us all inalienable rights on this planet.  

In every ethnic group are good and bad people.  God says He has made some humans believers, and others unbelievers. The Koran says, “to you be your way and to me be mine.”  
Some powerful people and groups, target people of color and Muslims for discrimination in the workplace. These people are bad, like those powerful people in the time of Jesus. They accuse Black and Muslim leaders who speak out, of divisiveness, or of anti-Semitism.  But what of their own stereotyping, putting labels on people?  

In many countries, Muslims, Christians and Jews have gotten along together for centuries, to share the territory and practice their religions as brothers and sisters. Why can’t we do this in America? We are not just a Christian nation alone. In fact certain parts of the Koran were used to shape the U.S. Constitution. Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson—all read the Koran. 

Our prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us the challenges Islam would face in the future he saw ahead.  He knew a small percentage who claimed to be Muslims would turn into renegades. We also have that small percentage in other societies, including Christians like the crusaders or white supremists like the Klan and Nazis. 

The Messiah Christ Jesus said that whoever lives by the sword, dies by the sword. True Christianity does not consist of murdering and slaughtering other people.  In true Islam, jihad is not terroristic violence. Rather, it is to go out onto the path of God to seek knowledge, and to mingle with the various races and classes of people. 

The occupation of many countries is what is causing a lot of trouble right now. Unjust wars have been started, like in the Middle East countries, with bombings that kill elders, women and children.      

The Koran is the book God gave to Muhammad to give to all humanity.  But I also read and follow the Bible— the Torah, psalms of David, the prophets, the words and works of Jesus in the Injeel (New Testament). I believe in all the prophets and messengers of God.

Let’s get down to the basic facts about me as a Black man, born in America, a Muslim and a blues entertainer.  Like Malcolm X,  I found the Nation of Islam when in prison, from 1973 until 1980. I corresponded with Elijah Muhammad and worked with NOI Temple 28 in East St. Louis to set up a Muslim prayer service in Menard prison. Not only did it create more peace among Black inmates, men from other ethnic groups started attending as well. I was known at the time as Larry 2X Hill.

After my release from prison in 1977, I followed Wallace Deen Muhammad when he led the NOI, which was called the American Muslim Mission at that time. I was part of Wallace Deen’s security detail and served  on duty when he spoke at the Silver Opera House on Wacker Drive in 1979. He reached out to people of different faiths and cultures, including Jews, Christians and Latinos. African leaders like Idi Amin and Anwar Sadat came to visit Mosque Maryam. 

Wallace Deen Muhammad was less of a Black Nationalist than others in NOI.  He was a Muslim scholar, he went to school in Cairo, Egypt. He mostly followed the principles of mainstream Islam. But he understood the suffering of Black people in America.

From the Black Nationalist perspective, there still are problems that plague Black people in America and abroad.  But we as Black people, once we can free ourselves from the shackles of colonialism and come into the true knowledge of ourselves, that will help us cleanse ourselves of violence, hatred and degrading behavior.

Since 1980, I have affiliated with mainstream Sunni Islam. True Muslims see themselves as human beings. We can become free-thinking human beings. God gave us all rights.  I’ve come to realize that God is in charge of everything we do—that Allah loves and protects those who do good in the world.  God is more powerful than any politician or corporate CEO in the world. 

As an American, my Declaration of Independence principles are being infringed on by job discrimination and police harassment—my life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I can tell you a whole list of incidents that have happened, including a trumped-up drug case in 2015.  The judge threw it out, but somehow it’s still on my record. They always want to pin a felony on you and violate your Constitutional rights. They misuse the 13th amendment, try to put us back in chains. 

There are not many Muslims active in the blues music industry today.  Muslim musicians in other genres, like Cat Stevens—Yusuf Islam— seem to have overcome discrimination. Of course he had already made his name in popular music first.  Some great Muslim bluesmen, like Jimmie Lee Robinson and Sonny Rhodes, have passed. Some blues artists today are Christians, some don’t have a religion.  I may be the only nationally known Muslim blues musician in my generation today.

I speak out consistently that the the blues I sing tells the history and stories of my people. We created it and are happy to share it with everyone, all over the world; we must be compensated for it.  My blues is how I make my living.  I was raised up and understand what it means to be Black in America. God willing I will be 63 years old Dec. 13, 2018.  Time don’t wait on no one, and that is a fact.  One has only so many years to practice their profession.  

If one speaks truth to power, as I do, the powers-that-be threaten to take away  something that human being loves or uses to make a living.  I am respected around the world for my music—why would those in power want to hinder my progress? Is it because blues has a way of bringing people together—my people, your people, all people? And the System does not want us to get together.  But we must.

Thank you for listening. May God bring you into more and more of the light.

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