I believe we all recognize a James Taylor song as soon as we hear it. For every Baby Boomer there is at least one song that hits close to home. James’s biographical music can’t help but parallel events we’ve all experienced.
James was born in Boston on March 12, 1948. His family moved to North Carolina where he grew up in an upper middle class family with his four siblings. His family summered on Martha’s Vineyard, giving James his New England roots. His mother preferred opera to lullabies, so lullabies were left to James and his siblings, who often sang each other to sleep. In 1961, James was enrolled in Milton Academy, a boarding/prep school outside of Boston. He left in his senior year to spend nine months in a mental hospital where he completed his high school education.
Music at the time was transitioning from the communal theme of the ’60s to songs that were more biographical. James Taylor began his journey of chronicling the lives of middle class Baby Boomers in 1970 with his breakthrough hit “Fire and Rain.” This iconic classic was written following the suicide of a friend and included verses about a stay in rehab and his struggle to recuperate. In 1971, “You’ve Got a Friend,” written by Carole King in response to “Fire and Rain,” became his first #1 hit. His original music was influenced by Appalachian folk music, Hank Williams, and even some early soul. However, some of his biggest hits were covers such as Otis Blackwell’s “Handy Man” and the Beatles’ “In My Life.” James Taylor has the talent to make any song his own.
Through the years, that mellow voice and beautiful music have earned five Grammies, as well as many other prestigious awards. In 1998, James Taylor was awarded the Century Award by Rolling Stone magazine. In 2015, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. These are just a few of the achievements of this great musician whose career is still going strong.
For years to come we will continue to sing “Sweet Baby James” to our babies, “Your Smiling Face” to our loved ones, and “Handy Man” just for fun. I hope and expect that there will be more James Taylor classics in the future.
(by Carol Starkey)