Kinderman

John Taylor, aka “Kinderman,” is receiving a legacy award from the Howard County Arts Council. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / March 6, 2012)

After convincing his mostly preschool audience to chant, "Dance, Kinderman, dance" a few times, John Taylor pretended to timidly oblige.

But he cleverly surprised his young spectators when he flamboyantly cocked his right hip and unleashed a sample of the flashy footwork and smooth moves that long ago earned him the title of Disco King.

The exuberant 2- to 6-year-olds screamed their approval, smitten by the mischievous leader with the wide grin and calming voice as he led the church school's students and staff through 45 minutes of learning wrapped up in movement and song.

At age 75, the longtime Columbia resident is still casting his spell after nearly 30 years as Kinderman, his rhyming alter ego. He says he has "no plans to retire until I expire."

"Some people tell me I'm lucky, but this [career] isn't about luck," he said after a recent performance, during which he wore his trademark black derby, red jacket and bow tie. "It's my purpose in life to be doing what I'm doing."

In recognition of his unwavering commitment to teaching and inspiring audiences of all ages, Taylor will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Howard County Arts Council, which will be presented March 24 at the 15th Annual Celebration of the Arts Gala.

This year, after multiple past nominations for a "Howie" award, Taylor will instead receive a special Legacy in the Arts Award, one that's only been given out four times. The annual Howie awards will also be presented the same evening to Tom Benjamin, Brooke Kuhl-McClelland, and Mays and Associates. The fundraiser is open to the public.

"John has a really special connection with kids and brings joy to classrooms throughout the state," said Coleen West, the council's executive director. While children are Taylor's focus, he also performs for seniors and instructs children's educators, among other projects, she noted.

"He has worked a long time and made significant contributions to the arts over the decades," West said. "He's an artistic treasure here in Howard County and we're fortunate to have him as an arts ambassador."

Taylor writes simple melodies and chants about colors, shapes and ABCs, then liberally sprinkles in life lessons about the importance of friendship and loving one another. It's a rhythm-and-rhyme recipe that has served him well.

When he settled on his stage persona over 25 years ago, all of the components of his act jelled, he 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," he said.

All that ultra-hype now belongs to another time, when he was doing 500 shows a year and traveling to every state except Alaska, he said.

"I tell people that I'm doing about 100 shows now and they say, 'Aww, what happened?'" he said. "Nothing 'happened.' I'm 75 years old — that's it!"

Taylor grew up in Baltimore around dancers and developed a burning desire that matched his natural talent at a very young age, he said.

"My mother, Blanche, was an acrobatic dancer working for tips when she was expecting me, and when I was born she said the doctor told her I'd come out dancing," he said with a grin.

Friday nights at the Taylor home were filled with his parents' friends who came together to dance, play cards and eat. 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, he recalled.

As a student at Frederick Douglass High School years later, 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 joked. But after traveling to New York to find fame and being rejected for a part in "West Side Story," he returned home to attend Morgan State University.