It was an unforgettable night of music on Saturday, August 20, as hundreds of Loyola Academy parents, alumni, and friends celebrated the opening of the new McGrath Family Performing Arts Center
with a private concert by Grammy Award-winning blues legend Taj Mahal. Along with membership in the Blues Hall of Fame and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association, three Grammy wins—the most recent in 2017—have underscored Taj’s undiminished relevance for more than a half century.
A brilliant artist with a musicologist’s mind, Taj Mahal, now 76-years-old, is a towering musical figure who has been making music for six decades. His work reveals the magnificent scope of blues to the world: “The blues is bigger than most people think,” he says.
Over the years, Taj has emerged as a mind-boggling, multifaceted player. In addition to the guitar, he has become proficient on about 20 different instruments—and counting. No one is as simultaneously traditional and avant-garde. Tracing origins to the American South, the Caribbean, Africa, and elsewhere, he has created entirely new sounds over and over again, inspiring rock-and-roll icons, such as Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, along with ambitious artists toiling in obscurity.
“Taj Mahal was a superb choice to open our new performing arts center,” says Vice President of Advancement Bob Miller
, whose leadership during Loyola’s Second Century Campaign
contributed to the most successful fundraising effort in school history—raising more than $76.8 million and bringing forth major campus improvements, including the John D. Norcross ’54 Aquatic Center (2019), the Mary and L. Robert ’62 Pasquesi Piazza (2019), and the McGrath Performing Arts Center, home of the Leemputte Family Theater (2022). “There’s a warmth and a joy to his music that captures the excitement and opportunity we all feel about this new performing arts space and what it means for our students.”
Taj delighted the audience during a 90-minute set during which he played on six different instruments, including a number of guitars and a keyboard. Notably, Billy Branch, a Chicago-based American blues harmonic player and singer of Chicago blues, joined Taj on stage. He closed with his 1987 hit “Everybody is Somebody,” an upbeat country blues anthem.
"It was a magical night for everyone and a wonderful way to celebrate our new McGrath Family Performing Arts Center," says graduate parent Scott Rafferty, who is a longtime fan and, together with his wife Mary, had the unique opportunity to meet Taj Mahal after the show. Scott and Mary are parents of four Rambler alumni: Thomas '09, John '11, Danny '13, and Charles '16.
"Taj Mahal and his band surprised me with not just classical blues, but their Hawaiian twists and wild harmonica solos, as well," adds Eamon Ryan '23, who served as a student ambassador welcoming guests before the performance. Eamon calls the show some of the best live music he's ever heard. "It was a great night for all who attended, and a great way to open the new theater."
This exclusive performance was not open to the public. In addition, members of the Loyola Academy community had the opportunity to name a seat in the new Leemputte Family Theater. Seats are still available—more information can be found at goramblers.org/theaterseats
For a list of event sponsors and upcoming performances, view the performance playbill, created by Katharine Sipchen '24