As she collected her thoughts just minutes before being introduced, Crystal Taliefero, in a euphoric trance, contemplated her journey, where it all began and where it’s taken her.
Multi-instrumentalist Taliefero had came home to the Region to receive a special recognition Thursday during a Black History Celebration by the city of Hammond for her contributions in the music industry and her philanthropic initiatives.
“You know life is all about choices,” Taliefero said. “God has blessed me with the opportunity to do what I love. My faith, family and friends have all been an inspirational part of that journey. It’s great to come home where it all started.”
Taliefero has been hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as the industry’s Best Secret Weapon and the 125-plus People, Places and Things Ruling the Rock and Roll Universe. Taliefero feels fortunate to have continued to stay relevant and keep working in an industry mostly dominated by men.
Taliefero recalled when a male band mate seemed to instantly “turn on me and singled me out” while attempting to discredit her “unjustly” every chance he got. She initially felt disappointment and anger.
“My first reaction was to go after him, but I knew the situation would just escalate,” Taliefero said. “You have to know when to speak up and defend yourself but you also have to be smart enough to not take things personally and understand it’s not your fault.
"Whatever the situation is or the magnitude of the problem, you have to protect yourself at all costs and make sure it doesn’t happen to others.”
Taliefero said “now more than ever” we need decency and humanity to “rise above.”
“How we treat others and how we let others treat us ultimately speaks to our character,” Taliefero said. “I applaud those who fight against injustice and have the courage to stand up for what they feel is right. They are the game changers, the difference that makes this world a better place.”
Taliefero, a former Hammond and Gary resident, has been part of legendary performances rooted in catalytic charity and in response to immediate crisis such as the post 9/11 Concert for New York City; America: A Tribute to Heroes; and 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief.
“We have to give back and bring about awareness,” she said.
Taliefero said she was thankful to have her best friend, role model and her late brother Charlie to always push her and strive to be the best.
“I always wanted to do and play what he was playing,” Taliefero remembered. “He was tough on me, but it was all backed by love and support. He knew I had far more talent than I believed I had. I am very fortunate to have had a role model like him and to this day I can still hear him saying, ‘You can do this.’”
Taliefero began her career touring with John Mellencamp and has since toured with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, Julian Lennon and a host of other widely successful artists and groups.
Taliefero also found a mentor in her current boss — Billy Joel. On tour with him since 1989, she credits his guidance and direction as a major part of her development as a performer.
She also remembers a valuable lesson from her first boss, Mellencamp.
“I had a flat tire on the side of a dark road on Highway 37,” Taliefero recalled. “I was so proud of myself because I had changed the tire myself — until I got to practice and got docked a whole week’s pay. When I asked him about it, and he told me, ‘Money is time and you need to start out earlier because you never know when something is going to go wrong.’ I was never late again.”
Taliefero has made time during her extensive touring schedule to make several appearances in Northwest Indiana, including reading to classes, speaking with students and also hosting a special evening with the Munster Rotary in 2016 to tell her story to youths.
“I just love kids and want to encourage as many as I can,” Taliefero said. “Children are our future and they need our direction and guidance. They need to hear what it takes and how perseverance is a key ingredient to attaining their dreams.”
In 2016, Taliefero led the Indiana University Soul Revue under the direction of the school’s African American Arts Institute Executive Director Charles Sykes.
Taliefero is also the president of the nonprofit music education program A Journey with the Arts, an initiative that promotes the importance of the arts through musical performance, art, dance and theater. She also leads an artist development company called Live Show Consulting, which grooms up-and-coming aspiring artists.