Morgan Taylor, the creator of the award-winning multimedia children’s project Gustafer Yellowgold, died on August 11 after a brief and sudden illness, his family and friends report.
Taylor’s songs and artwork have captivated generations, earning him two Grammy nominations, the Audible Award for Best Children’s Audiobook, and widespread critical acclaim. Described by The New York Times as “a cross between yellow submarine and Dr. Seuss,” and by Time magazine As a “kindie rock star”, Mr. Taylor’s memorable melodies, handcrafted illustrations and whimsical lyrics helped reinvent media for young readers and revolutionize the modern genre of children’s music.
Self-taught artist and musician who grew up on comic books and AM/FM radio in Dayton, Ohio, the illustrator/musician crafted a world of colorful animals and alien characters and their adventures, each to songs reminiscent of the more often the soft rock tune of the 1960s and 1970s. His unique vision manifested itself in a multimedia series for young readers of videos, books, CDs, DVDs, audio books, portable items and plush toys. Live performances included an off-Broadway theater tour, concert tours with rock outfits like Wilco and The Polyphonic Spree, and shows for children and parents who often sang together.
Each of his “moving music books” – animated music videos with subtitles for young readers – found joy in the mundane and reveled in the absurd, with Morgan’s unique spirit woven throughout. At a time when much of the media created for children was nonsensical, part of a corporate franchise, or both, Morgan served as a featured illustrator, composer, singer, and performer on the entirety of his work, and pursued an original and honest take. on healthy dishes with an underlying message of inclusivity and acceptance of others.
“Curiosity, imagination, secrecy, guilt, euphoria and narcissism each have their place in the musical narrative,” Taylor said of the Gustafer Yellowgold project in a 2014 interview. but all wrapped up in a fun and humorous musical adventure.”
For the past nine months, Morgan has been the lead creative voice at Sooper Books, a UK digital audiobook and storytelling site for which he has written over 50 original tales. He has also spent the past two years writing the music and lyrics for Peabodya STEM-based musical that will world premiere in Chicago in October and will debut over a dozen new songs.
The distinctive personality of Morgan’s work reflects its creator. Morgan had devoted friends, enthusiasts and collaborators around the world, many of whom recognized his gentleness, generosity of spirit, intuitive compassion and quirky sense of humor.
Nine-time Grammy Award winner Norah Jones said of Morgan that he “sends a smile and a ray of light through everything he does, as the Living Room’s sound engineer on Stanton and Allen where we first met, through his songwriting, and through the fantastical world he created with Gustafer Yellowgold He will be missed by so many touched by friendship, art and imagination.
“He brought us the brilliant and imaginative world of Gustafer Yellowgold through music, story and images. His life and work were truly inspiring,” said songwriter Lisa Loeb.
“He was such a light. A solid beam that shone prolifically and effusively,” said bassist John Munson of Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic. “He made the reality of growing up less scary for all of us, parents and children.”
“Through his lyrics, his stories, his tunes or just his presence, he’s bound to make you feel better. A mischievous, whimsical, sweet soul with a boundless, relentless imagination,” said writer and collaborator Glen Berger.
“Morgan was one of the most original creators of art and the most universally loved individual I have ever known,” said songwriter David Poe.
“He was an absolutely gorgeous, creative, hilarious champion of joy,” said Todd McHatton, one of Taylor’s colleagues on the family music circuit.
“We loved Morgan like our own family and looked forward to playing with him,” Tool’s Danny Carey said. “Morgan was an incredible musician.”
“Morgan was really, in his own way, a magician,” said Patrick Sansone of Wilco, who produced one of the Gustafer projects. “He had the ability to weave his brilliant pop savvy, playful sense of humor and goofy sense of childhood wonder, along with his deep empathy and humanism into a delightfully meaningful spell.”
Morgan’s musical career began in high school and blossomed when he moved to New York City in 1999, where he worked as a sound engineer at acoustic performance venue The Living Room. There he formed Morgan Taylor’s Rock Group and wrote many songs that would become Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide, Wild World, the first of 12 releases in 2005.
It was also in New York that he met singer-songwriter Rachel Loshak in 2000. They married in 2004, founded Apple Eye Productions to produce the Gustafer series, and eventually moved to northern New York. upstate New York with their two sons, Harvey (14) and Ridley (11).
In recent years, Morgan has pursued a series of other passion projects, including a full podcast on Trip Shakespeare, an alternative band among his formative influences, which also included KISS and the Beatles. He has been the host of the beloved radio show RadioCake on Radio Kingston WKNY for the past four years, playing a wacky mix of family tunes.
Other musical projects and collaborations over the years include Pause For Effect, B’Carfis, The Life & Times, Glee & Beak, Oo Oo Wa, Mink, Nest, David Poe, Lisa Loeb, Rachel Loshak and The Autumn Defense.
He is survived by his wife, Rachel Loshak-Taylor, their sons Harvey and Ridley, his mother Elizabeth and sister Ann of Dayton, Ohio, and his brother, Grant, of Los Angeles.
Morgan Taylor Go Fund Me to support this family.
Photo courtesy Mayers Consulting