Life Remembered: Todd Taylor gave gift of himself to others
URBANA — Clarence Todd Taylor will be remembered for his gift of music, especially gospel music, around the area.
But Mr. Taylor also touched the hearts of thousands of students and local residents for the way he could talk with them, make jokes with them and encourage them.
Mr. Taylor, who went by the name Todd, died Wednesday after more than a year's battle against cancer. He played for Urbana High School choirs and for several churches and church organizations.
Leah Taylor, his wife, said Mr. Taylor loved God, "was truly a gospel player" and could joke with or talk to anyone. Mr. Taylor came up with a nickname for just about everyone he met.
"He was just a people person," Leah Taylor said. "He was going to make you feel good about yourself."
He was also a master of music, and could listen to any song and play it back, whether it was classical or jazz or gospel.
"He could copy it in his mind," Leah Taylor said. "And when he went into the world, he never played any other music than gospel."
The Taylors traveled the world, Leah Taylor said, and Mr. Taylor would accompany her as she sang.
Mr. Taylor also had a special love for his youngest son, Clarence Joshua, who goes by Josh. Mr. Taylor nicknamed him, "Money Maker," Leah Taylor said.
A memorial fund has been set up at all Busey Bank locations, and all money raised will go toward Josh Taylor's education.
"He was a good-hearted man, a good father, a good provider, a good, loving man," Leah Taylor said.
Willie Summerville, who was Urbana's longtime choral teacher and who also works at the University of Illinois, wasn't Mr. Taylor's first piano teacher, but started working with him around the time Mr. Taylor was in junior high.
Later, Mr. Taylor played for Summerville's choirs in Urbana and at UI.
"I think Todd Taylor epitomizes the servant mentality," Summerville said. "He was just an incredible person. As an ambassador of good will, he respected everybody that he worked with."
Summerville said Mr. Taylor could take charge of situations, and represent Summerville and the school district at events Summerville couldn't attend.
Mr. Taylor directed the choir that sang at the local Martin Luther King Jr. celebration each year, and played for the Black Chorus at the UI, as well, Summerville said. He also served Salem Baptist Church and Church of the Living God, both in Champaign, each Sunday, and worked with several other churches and church groups, as well.
"We've lost a great soul," Summerville said.
Angi Franklin, who is now principal at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign, first met Mr. Taylor when she was a UI student studying music education. She first worked with him and Summerville when she was choir teacher at Urbana Middle School from 2000-02 and hired him several times as a guest accompanist when she taught choir at Central High School in Champaign between 2002-05. She also worked with him when she was choir teacher at Urbana High School from 2005-10.
She considered him a brother, she said, and noticed soon after meeting him the "magical" relationships he was able to forge with students.
He was able to make any student feel special, even those who may have not felt included in other parts of high school, or who had special needs.
"He had kids singing solos who were not soloists," Franklin said. "They would become soloists because they would believe in themselves."
"Everybody knew Todd," Franklin said. "He just really was an icon in the community."
Senior Jazzlyn Carter is in Urbana High School's honor choir and first met Mr. Taylor when he played for choir when she was in seventh grade at Urbana Middle School.
"He's just always happy, always smiling," Carter said.
Carter said Mr. Taylor was encouraging to her, and helped her realize music must always be a part of her life, even as she faces decisions about college and her future.
"Your voice makes me feel alive," Carter remembers Mr. Taylor telling her last year, adding he gave her assurance and the realization that she can touch others through music.
"No matter what I do, I know that I have to sing," Carter said.
Sophomore Rashaya Brown said Mr. Taylor "had something special with everybody."
She found she could talk to him she was going through hard times.
"When I didn't have anybody else, I had him," she said.
Senior Ronneice Portis said Mr. Taylor encouraged her and helped her grow as a person.
"We were all his children," Portis said. "He gave me encouraging words to do better in life, and that I can do anything I set my heart to."
Senior Terryn Hall said Mr. Taylor should be remembered for his love of music "and sharing his music with others."
"He loved to see other people happy to be singing," Hall said.