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Michael C. Taylor

Michael C. Taylor

Legendary guitarist and passionate historian, archaeologist and preservationist, Michael Curtis Taylor, 62, of Hilton Head passed away on Sunday, September 5 at Hilton Head Regional Medical Center.

Taylor was born on July 21, 1948, to Katie Steed and George F. Taylor in Fayetteville, N.C. While a teenager, he taught himself to play the acoustic guitar. His mastery of the instrument put him in demand in the 1960s as a lead guitarist for a variety of folk singers in both Fayetteville and New York City, playing for such legends as Joni Mitchell. In 1969, he joined an up-and-coming singer named John Denver and with Denver wrote such hits as Sunshine on My Shoulders and Rocky Mountain High. His guitar technique in songs such as The Season Suite and The Eagle and The Hawk often led to his being considered the best guitarist in the country. While playing with Denver, he married Mary Kay Kolacz of Washington, N.C., on July 25, 1970.

Taylor, seeking to escape winter in Aspen, Colorado, came to Hilton Head in January of 1973 at the suggestion of a friend to spend the season. As a boy he had always loved collecting arrowheads and other artifacts with his father, and found the relatively undeveloped Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands fertile fields for exploring and piecing together the history of the islands. His passion for educating others about the complex relationship between man and his environment, and assuring that historical sites were secured soon surpassed his love of the stage, and Taylor put down roots on Hilton Head and began studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia in archaeology and anthropology. As with the guitar, Taylor completely immersed himself in the subjects and became a Research Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at USC. In 1985, Taylor and a group of islanders began an effort to create The Museum of Hilton Head Island (now Coastal Discovery) and Taylor became the first director in 1988. Under his leadership, beach, nature and history walks and lectures began, archaeological projects were undertaken at Fish Haul Creek & Mitchelville (site of the first freedmanís village), the museum took over management of the pre-historic Greenís Shell enclosure, and a bird hospital and Project Turtle Watch operated under the museumís umbrella. Taylor later was the co-founder of the Southeastern Ecological Institute and was that organizationís Executive Director. He wrote and narrated Mike Taylorís History of Hilton Head Island, an audio-cassette feature in Southern Living Magazine as well as a video series Hilton Head Island Ė A Television History which aired on the History Channel. In addition, he collaborated and contributed in 1993 on a limited edition book The Forgotten History: A Photographic Essay on Civil War Hilton Head Island.

In 2002, Taylor was named Executive Director of the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust. Among the many accomplishments during his tenure was the preservation of Battery White, a Civil War Confederate fortification near Georgetown; the confirmation and preservation of Fort Pemberton, a Confederate site on James Island; and he was currently involved in preservation and interpretive signs at Battery Brayton, a Union Fort near Beaufort.

Over the past several years, Taylor consulted with filmmaker Mike Kirk on several documentaries including The Trumpet at the Walls of Jericho about a slave who obtained freedom and became the chaplain of the African-American 54th regiment during the Civil War. He just completed work as co-writer and associate producer for Americaís Iliad: The Siege of Charleston, a 2-hour film about Charleston during the Civil War which is set to air nationally on PBS stations in April of 2011.

In addition to his wife, Mary Kay, Taylor is survived by his sister Janet Taylor Knight (David), of Washington, N.C., and a brother, George Taylor, of Chapel Hill, N.C.

A Celebration of Life will be held at the The Island Funeral Home and Crematory, 4 Cardinal Road, on Friday, September 10 at 6:00 p.m.