James Vernon Taylor
(born March 12, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American
singer-songwriter and guitarist. A five-time Grammy Award winner, Taylor
was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Taylor
achieved his breakthrough in 1970 with the No. 3 single "Fire and Rain"
and had his first No. 1 hit the following year with "You've Got a
Friend", a recording of Carole King's classic song. His 1976 Greatest
Hits album was certified Diamond and has sold 12 million US copies.
Following his 1977 album, JT, he has retained a large audience over the
decades. His commercial achievements declined slightly until a
resurgence during the late 1990s and 2000s, when he recorded some of his
best-selling and most-awarded work (including Hourglass, October Road
At the age of 3, 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; 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.
In 1965, James 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. Taylor's debut album, James
Taylor, was well-liked by critics, but didn't sell well.
In 1969, 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. Then he moved to California
and recorded a new album, this time for Warner Brothers.
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.
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 (meaning it has sold 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
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.
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
Carolyn 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 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. Perhaps most important, Taylor
continues to be esteemed as a songwriter and performer whose work
speaks to people's inner emotional lives.