74-Year-Old Blues Singer Receives Diploma 57 Years After Being Expelled Over Hair Discrimination

74-Year-Old Blues Singer Receives Diploma 57 Years After Being Expelled Over Hair Discrimination

A 74-year-old blues singer in Colorado finally received his high school diploma nearly 60 years after he was kicked out of school due to his hairstyle.

Otis Taylor was expelled from Denver’s Manual High School in 1966 over his hair, CBS News reports. But he was celebrated with an honorary degree in place of his diploma.

“Today is a day that we rectify the failures of the past,” Auon’tai Anderson, vice president of the Denver School Board, said at the ceremony.

“I know what Otis experienced along with others will no longer happen in the state of Colorado.”

Taylor was just 17 years old when school administrators told him to “cut your hair or leave.” The aspiring musician was already on the natural hair wave that would sweep the 1970s and see many Black Americans wearing their hair in afros.

“You had to have that James Brown haircut. You can have all you want on the top, but you had to be clean on the sides,” Taylor recalled.

The whole school district was coming down on people who didn’t look how they wanted you to look.”

Once given the ultimatum to cut his hair or risk expulsion, Taylor left—so was his diploma, upsetting his parents. He relocated to California to live with his dad and ended up getting arrested after trying to get into a bar with his underage ID card.

“My father let me sit there for three days. When I came out, he took me straight to a barber. I got my haircut!” Taylor laughed.

Taylor went on to follow his passion for music and released over a dozen blues albums and has the awards and accolades to match.

His best-known song is “Ten Million Slaves,” which can be heard in the 2009 Johnny Depp movie Public Enemies as noted by The Guardian. The song has also appeared on FX’s Justified and in a commercial promoting Discovery Channel’s Sons of Guns.

When it comes to how different he thinks his life would’ve turned out had he just cut his hair, Taylor says life has been too good to worry about the what-ifs.

“The wrong happened a long time ago. So being a Black man in America, I’m going to deal with wrongs,” he said.

“My kids went to college. My wife loves me and we’ve been married for 37 years. How can I regret?”