Who Is James Taylor?
Musician James Taylor rose to fame in the 1970s, when he became known for writing and performing sensitive, affecting songs. Over the course of a long-running career, Taylor has won five Grammy Awards and seen many of his albums go platinum. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and received a National Medal of the Arts in 2011.
James Vernon Taylor was born on March 12, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts. At the age of three, he moved with his family to North Carolina, where he lived for the rest of his childhood (though his well-off family usually spent summers on Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts). Taylor's mother had studied singing, and Taylor, like all of her children, was also musically inclined. Initially a cellist, he began to play the guitar when he was around 12 years old.
Beginnings of Musical Career
In 1965, Taylor committed himself to McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Massachusetts. During his stay there, he honed his songwriting skills. After leaving McLean in 1966, he helped form a band, The Flying Machine. When the group broke up, Taylor moved to London, where he was signed by the Beatles' Apple record label.
Following the release of his 1968 debut album, James Taylor, which received a positive reception from critics but didn't sell well, Taylor returned to the United States. Struggling with a heroin addiction, he checked into a hospital in New York, and then went to Austin Riggs, a Massachusetts psychiatric facility. After those stays, he played the 1969 Newport Folk Festival. He then moved to California and recorded a new album, this time for Warner Brothers.
Albums and Musical Stardom
'Sweet Baby James,' 'Mud Slide Slim'
Taylor's career skyrocketed with the success of his second album, Sweet Baby James (1970), which contains what may be Taylor's best-known song, the gentle "Fire and Rain." Both the album and the song reached No. 3 in their respective chart categories. On his next album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, Taylor had a No. 1 hit with his cover of "You've Got a Friend," written by Carole King. He also won a Grammy for his performance of that song.
'Greatest Hits,' 'JT'
Following a few moderately successful releases, James Taylor's Greatest Hits came out in 1976. The album was a success from the start and has now received diamond certification, selling more than 10 million copies. In 1977, Taylor won a second Grammy for his cover of "Handy Man." It was from the first album he recorded for Columbia, the multiplatinum-selling JT.
Over the next few decades, Taylor's musical output included studio albums, live recordings and even work on a Broadway musical. Hourglass (1997) won the Grammy for Best Pop Album (Taylor won Grammys in 2001 and 2003 as well). Touring has also enhanced Taylor's popularity, as well as his album sales; almost all of his releases have now attained either gold or platinum status.
'Before This World,' 'American Standard'
In June 2015, Taylor released his first album of original material in 13 years with Before This World. After a half-century in the music business, it became his first album to top the Billboard 200 chart. He followed with interpretations of classics like "My Blue Heaven" and "Moon River" for his next studio release, 2020's American Standard.
Personal Life and Activism
Taylor has been sober since 1984. After two failed marriages — to Carly Simon from 1972 to 1983, and to Kathryn Walker from 1985 to 1996 — he wed Caroline Smedvig in 2001.
Throughout his career, Taylor—who is proudly liberal—has offered his support to causes and people he believes in. He has given concerts for politicians such as George McGovern, Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren, and was a staunch opponent of Jesse Helms. Taylor has also appeared at numerous benefit concerts, including one to raise funds for victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
In 2000, Taylor was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He received a National Medal of the Arts in 2011 and was designated a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 2012. In November 2015, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in December 2016 he was celebrated at the 39th Kennedy Center Honors.
Perhaps most important, Taylor continues to be esteemed as a songwriter and performer whose work speaks to people's inner emotional lives.
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