Remembering Burlington's Glenn Taulton: 'He'd Always Have a Tune to Sing' | Life Stories | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Remembering Burlington's Glenn Taulton: 'He’d Always Have a Tune to Sing' 

Published December 27, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

click to enlarge From left: Glenn Taulton Jr., Glenn Taulton and James Taulton in the mid-1990s - COURTESY OF THE TAULTON FAMILY
  • Courtesy of the Taulton Family
  • From left: Glenn Taulton Jr., Glenn Taulton and James Taulton in the mid-1990s

This "Life Stories" profile is part of a collection of articles remembering Vermonters who died in 2023.


In the public housing complex in Clairton, Pa., where Glenn Taulton grew up, he wasn't allowed to practice his tuba at home. The apartment was small, and Glenn's father didn't want his kids to be musicians.

"Anything but music," was the message from their father, recalled Byron Taulton, Glenn's younger brother.

So Glenn would stay at school late to practice in the band room or take his horn to a hillside at Millvue Acres, the housing project, and play in a stand of apple trees. Neighbors might hear "Puff the Magic Dragon," one of Glenn's favorite songs, coming through his tuba.

Finding a place and a way to make music was a cornerstone of Glenn's life. He sang hymns in church choirs and Motown hits with his friends. He led the sousaphone section in his high school's acclaimed 200-piece marching band (plus 25 majorettes) and played in the school jazz band.

For the last 30 years, as local listeners and players know, Glenn performed solo, with his band, G-Thang, and with numerous musicians at spots around Burlington: stealing the show with "My Girl" on karaoke night at the St. John's Club (his karaoke buddy, Rich Graham, said by email that he was lucky to sing backup for Glenn on Temptations' songs), joining Bobby McFerrin on vocals at the Flynn for "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and performing in Lyric Theatre's Finian's Rainbow on the same stage.

click to enlarge Glenn (center) singing at Rich Graham's (with arm raised) birthday in 2008 - COURTESY OF RICH GRAHAM
  • Courtesy of Rich Graham
  • Glenn (center) singing at Rich Graham's (with arm raised) birthday in 2008

Folks could see Glenn playing congas — an instrument that was dear to him — at a Leunig's Bistro jazz gig or hear him singing "Mercy Mercy Me" in a duo at the Switchback Brewing taproom.

"People say about Beethoven's music, even though we knew he invented it, it sounds like it was always there," said jazz pianist Tom Cleary, who teaches music at the University of Vermont. "I know Glenn moved here from Pittsburgh; it just seemed like he had always been here."

Glenn died of a cardiac event on May 13, at age 71, in his apartment in Burlington's Old North End. His memorial service was filled with music performed by Vermont artists. Jenni Johnson sang the hymn "Lead Me, Guide Me," and Cleary played a piece by trombonist James Harvey, "In Memory."

There were nonmusical moments, as well, to honor the Navy veteran who moved to Chittenden County with his family in 1992 to work at IBM. From the pulpit of the First United Methodist Church of Burlington, Glenn's daughter, Tiffany, read a condolence letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

click to enlarge The Taulton family in the early 1980s - COURTESY OF THE TAULTON FAMILY
  • Courtesy of the Taulton Family
  • The Taulton family in the early 1980s

"We, as a nation, owe your father a tremendous debt of gratitude for putting on the uniform to keep our communities and our families safe and protected," Sanders wrote. "I greatly appreciated his support for workers' rights, and his commitment in the fight for equality."

The oldest of three siblings, Glenn grew up in Clairton, a steel mill town outside of Pittsburgh. His father, Joseph, worked two eight-hour shifts a day in the mill, Byron recalled. Despite his father's admonition to stay away from music, Glenn enthusiastically pursued the art form that ran in his family: His paternal grandfather, James "Boogie" Taulton, was a jazz pianist.

"Glenn was an artist," Byron, 68, said. "Once he learned the [band] music, there was no beating him out." He could triple-tongue on the tuba, Byron said of the technique used to articulate notes rapidly.

Glenn attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh on a music scholarship and earned a degree in music education. He taught music in Pittsburgh public schools before joining the Navy in the late 1970s, when his then-wife, Frances, was pregnant with their first child.

Glenn served in the Navy for six years, during which he was a band leader and worked in encrypted communications. On completion of his service and two years in the reserves, the Taultons moved to Manassas, Va., where Glenn worked for IBM. He transferred to the Essex, Vt., plant in the early 1990s, and the family settled in South Burlington.

click to enlarge Clockwise from left: James, Glenn Sr., Frances, Glenn Jr. and Tiffany Taulton at Tiffany's graduation from Georgetown University - COURTESY OF THE TAULTON FAMILY
  • Courtesy Of The Taulton Family
  • Clockwise from left: James, Glenn Sr., Frances, Glenn Jr. and Tiffany Taulton at Tiffany's graduation from Georgetown University

The Taulton children — Tiffany, Glenn Jr. and James — remember their father always singing, with a repertoire that ranged from Parliament to Frank Sinatra to gospel.

"He'd always have a tune to sing, and he was really happy with his voice," James, 40, said.

As some of the few (or sometimes the only) Black students in their schools, the Taultons faced blatant racism and more subtle forms of discrimination. Tiffany received a note in her locker at South Burlington High School telling her to "go back to Africa," she said. When educators placed her in lower-level classes, her father made sure she was moved to a higher track.

"You didn't want Glenn Taulton coming to your school," Tiffany said.

Glenn offered unwavering support to his children and impressed upon them the value of education.

"My parents made sure that we were in places where we could get a good education," Tiffany said. "My father didn't want the teachers to look at our skin color. If he felt they were being discriminatory, the teachers could look forward to seeing him the next day. Nobody was going to treat his children wrong."

Glenn's work for equality reached beyond the local school system. He was active in efforts to organize workers at IBM. At a 1994 forum, he implored the University of Vermont to increase its minority hiring. Glenn served on the board of City Market, Onion River Co-op when the member-owned store built its downtown Burlington location. He was recruited to run for the board when co-op leaders wanted to diversify the body, then-board president Don Schramm said.

"He was enthusiastic about the project and a cheerleader for it," said Schramm, who recalled Glenn giving people tours of the new building.

Glenn taught music and Latin dance to kids in local programs, often with an assist from his own school-aged children. His sons played percussion, and his daughter was his dance partner.

"He did a really good job trying to get kids on rhythm," James said. "He'd light up with kids."

In 1997, after Glenn and Frances separated, she moved back to Pittsburgh with their children. He stayed in Vermont; a couple years later, he purchased a house in Burlington's South End with his then-partner, Molly Fleming. She had a young daughter, Zoe, whom Glenn helped raise.

"My daughter was a very little blonde thing," Fleming said. "They would get all kinds of looks when they walked together downtown. He was always very clear with her that color didn't matter."

In the years after his immediate family moved away, Glenn developed a devoted friendship and strong kinship with his second cousin, Jeffrey Williams, who moved to Vermont in 2002 for his job with the Department of Homeland Security.

They enjoyed dinners at the Windjammer Restaurant and going out to hear music; almost everywhere they went, someone recognized Glenn, Williams said.

When Williams was sick, Glenn cared for him at his home in St. Albans and cooked him old-style Southern dishes, recipes passed down from his grandmother. The two traded family stories in Glenn's apartment in the Rose Street Artists' Co-op in Burlington, which he filled with an ever-growing collection of paraphernalia from the Pittsburgh Steelers, his beloved hometown football team.

"It was nice to just have that connection," Williams, 61, said. "We were always there for each other."

Glenn worshipped at New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church and, in the last years of his life, at First United Methodist Church Burlington. Sometimes he walked in when the service was almost over, wearing a three-piece suit and fedora and carrying his hymnal, the Rev. Kerry Cameron, 68, said. Soon, he'd be leading the congregation in song, his voice both lightening and strengthening the church music, the pastor recalled.

"He was an incredibly spiritual evangelist," she said.

On occasion, Glenn and Cameron walked together down Church Street, with the reverend donning a hat in sartorial harmony with her congregant.

"He would just greet people and smile at them," Cameron said. "And the next thing you knew, he'd sing a song from the Supremes."

The original print version of this article was headlined "'He'd Always Have a Tune to Sing' | Glenn Edward Taulton, October 31, 1951-May 13, 2023"

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About The Author

Sally Pollak

Sally Pollak

Bio:
Sally Pollak is a staff writer at Seven Days. Her first newspaper job was compiling horse racing results at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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