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Bobby Taylor discovered Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 in Chicago in 1968.
Motown icon will finish musical work started by the "Maestro of Rock."
October 18, 2016

Musician who discovered Michael Jackson to speak at public forum, finish song touting togetherness

Bobby Taylor closes his eyes and remembers the night he discovered Michael Jackson.

It was at Chicago’s Regal Theater, July 1968. The Jackson 5 — sharing the bill with Taylor and his group, the Vancouvers — sang only two songs, but that’s all it took.

“Michael was up there singing his heart out, spinning around like James Brown,” Taylor said. “He was probably 8 at the time, but he was fully developed as a professional singer. I’ve never seen anything like him before or since.”

Taylor will recount that story and others in a community conversation about his life and music when ASU’s Project Humanities hosts “An Evening with Bobby Taylor” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at the ASU Memorial Union. It coincides with a trip that will allow the 82-year-old Taylor to produce “Humanity,” a musical plea for tolerance, peace, empathy and creativity.

“Humanity” was written and initially performed by the late Dick Wagner — known for collaborations with Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Kiss and Lou Reed. 

“We are extremely fortunate and excited to have Mr. Bobby Taylor, a true music icon, celebrate our shared humanity,” said Neal Lester, founding director of ASU’s Project Humanities and Foundation Professor of English. “We are now able to compete the work begun by Dick Wagner.”

The project started a few years ago when Lester sought to commission a song that could promote the power of music as a way of bringing people together. Wagner wrote and recorded a demo shortly after meeting Lester for lunch in spring 2014. But the man known as "the Maestro of Rock" died months later after years of declining health, and the song went unfinished.

For his part, Lester wouldn’t give up on the work. At the insistence of Wagner's manager, Susan Michelson, Lester reached out to Taylor, who agreed to produce the song — even if it meant he would have to travel from Hong Kong, where he has lived for the past decade. An honorarium by the Puffin West Foundation helped make it happen.   

“The man could write,” Taylor said of Wagner. “He was a genius, and it is my honor to do this for him.” 

Aside from discovering the boy who would grow up to become the King of Pop, Taylor has worked with Jimi Hendrix, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Temptations and the Drifters. He also fronted Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, a Canadian band that charted a handful of soul and R&B songs.

This week, Taylor will lead a group of about 20 singers and musicians — including three members of ASU’s Gospel Choir — at an unassuming studio in Phoenix to record “Humanity.”

Taylor hopes to hone Wagner's work, in a way that's similar to how he honed the Jackson 5.

After their 1968 show in Chicago, Taylor packed the young artists and their father, Joe, into his car and drove them to his Detroit home.

They lived with Taylor for several weeks while he rehearsed them for an audition for Motown founder Berry Gordy, who was initially resistant to the idea. “I ain’t signing no kids,” Taylor recalled Gordy telling him.

Once Gordy saw the Jackson 5, he changed his mind. The rest is history.

Taylor became the Jackson 5’s main producer and songwriter. Their partnership yielded hits including ”I Want You Back/ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “I’ll Be There,” “Rockin’ Robin” and Jackson’s 1972 solo “Ben.”

Today, Taylor produces records and mentors young artists. He continues to perform live at international festivals, clubs, TV and film.

As for “Humanity,” Lester hopes to debut it soon. “Stay tuned,” he said. “There will be a reveal in the spring."


To RSVP or register for "An Evening with Bobby Taylor," go here. Admission is free and open to the public. 

For more information, call 480-727-7030 or visit


Top image: Producer Bobby Taylor listens as musicians play "Humanity" in Phoenix on Monday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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In international experiment, ASU astronomers explore mysteries of star formation

Observations that take today’s telescopes 5 years will take a week with TolTEC.
October 19, 2016

Uniquely sensitive camera, with optics and electronics designed and built at ASU, will probe into giant clouds of interstellar dust

How do stars form deep inside clouds of molecular gas? What's the history of star formation throughout cosmic time? When did the first stars form? And how did they produce the materials necessary for life on Earth?

A group of astronomers at Arizona State University is seeking answers to such questions as part of an international experiment that has been awarded more than $6 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to help build a uniquely sensitive camera, called TolTEC, to probe these mysteries.

"Half the light from stars in the universe is absorbed by clouds of interstellar dust and then re-radiated at long wavelengths invisible to the human eye," said Philip Mauskopf, of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). "Astronomical observations at these wavelengths can let us see into the cores of stellar nurseries where new stars are forming."

Mauskopf, a professor in SESE, is the leader of the ASU team that will design and construct the optics for the new camera. The team will also develop the electronics for producing images from the instrument's superconducting detectors.

Big eye

The new camera will be attached to a giant telescope in Mexico. On top of the 15,000-foot Sierra Negra in the state of Puebla sits the Large Millimeter Telescope (pictured above), with a 50-meter (164-foot) diameter main mirror.

It is the largest telescope in the world designed to operate at a wavelength of 1 millimeter, ideal for making detailed study of the dusty universe. The construction of this telescope, with contributions from the University of Massachusetts, has been the biggest scientific project in the history of Mexico.

Over the next three years, an international consortium, led by UMass, will build the golf-cart-size TolTEC cryogenic camera for the Large Millimeter Telescope. It will survey the universe, imaging radiation from dust at millimeter-wavelengths across large areas of sky.

The astronomers expect these images will reveal millions of previously unknown galaxies that are invisible to standard optical telescopes due to their large dust content.

Hunting dusty galaxies

"Over the last decade, smaller cameras and telescopes have discovered thousands of these galaxies," Mauskopf said. "This new project will allow a complete census of dusty galaxies in the universe and enable us to truly begin to understand their properties."

Eagle Nebula in infrared light

Because of interstellar dust, star-forming regions such as the Eagle Nebula (M16) show relatively little when observed in visible light. This infrared view by the Herschel Space Observatory shows star formation activity inside the giant cloud of dusty gas. But the new TolTEC camera (with ASU optics and electronics) will produce views of stellar nurseries like this with finer detail.


In addition to Mauskopf, the ASU team includes postdoctoral scholar Sean Bryan, electrical engineer Hamdi Mani, mechanical engineer Matt Underhill as well as graduate student and NASA Earth and Space Science fellow Sam Gordon and Barrett Honors College student Rhys Kelso.

"To get the best images, we have to supercool the optics and the superconducting detectors," Mauskopf said. "While developing this kind of superconducting technology can be difficult, the detectors and readout electronics we are using for TolTEC are very similar to ones we have already developed for use on balloon-borne telescopes at shorter wavelengths."

Once the TolTEC camera is completed, it will be mounted on the Large Millimeter Telescope and begin a two-year program of three large sky surveys covering hundreds of square degrees. These surveys will target regions where there are known dust clouds in our own galaxy. They will also target regions where there is relatively little local dust so that more distant objects are visible for comparison with deep optical images containing large numbers of galaxies.

Major step forward

Observations that require today’s telescopes five years to complete will be done in a little more than a week with TolTEC.

"It’s hard to grasp the increased capabilities of the new instrument," said Grant Wilson of UMass, principal investigator for TolTEC. "The combination of the new camera and the LMT requires a new outlook on what types of investigations are possible."

The details of the TolTEC surveys will be worked out in consultation with the international astronomical community through a series of workshops led by members of the TolTEC scientific advisory board. Data from the surveys will be made public as quickly as possible to allow the maximum scientific return.

The data from TolTEC will enable cosmologists, such as SESE's Evan Scannapieco, to trace the mysterious mechanism that is shutting off star formation in giant galaxies. It will also help astronomers including SESE's Judd Bowman, Rogier Windhorst, James Rhoads and Sangeeta Malhotra, who are using other methods to directly observe the oldest and most distant galaxies responsible for the re-ionization of the hydrogen gas in the early universe.

"Designing and building this camera will be a wonderful hands-on opportunity for SESE students and researchers," Mauskopf said. "And the end result will be a powerful new tool for studying the universe."

Other partners in TolTEC include the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, Cardiff University (UK), and the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics in Mexico.


Top photo: Researchers and students at the School of Earth and Space Exploration will design and build the optics and electronics for a new, highly sensitive camera, dubbed TolTEC, for the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico. The camera will enable astronomers to observe deep inside galactic clouds of obscuring dust in regions of space where stars are being born. It will also help cosmologists trace the evolution of galaxies in the early universe. Image by LMT/James Lowenthal