Although he was born in Boston [in 1948], James Vernon Taylor moved to North Carolina at age 3, where his father was dean of the medical school at UNC Chapel Hill. As a child, James studied cello, but in 1960, he started teaching himself how to play guitar. Three years later, he headed back to New England to attend prep school at the Milton Academy in Massachusetts.
At age 16, Taylor checked into a Massachusetts hospital to receive treatment for severe depression, and began focusing on songwriting. After his release, Taylor returned to New York and formed an unsuccessful band called The Flying Machine. The combo broke up in 1967 and Taylor moved to London the following year. There, he managed to get signed by The Beatles as the first artist to record on their newly created label Apple Records, and recorded his first album. The self-titled album contained the now-celebrated song “Carolina In My Mind” and was a critical success in spite of it not charting as a hit.
Later, Taylor signed with Warner Brothers Records, moved to California, and started work on his second album “Sweet Baby James,” which spawned the huge hit “Fire & Rain” and helped to bring his more obscure debut album back into popularity. He followed up that hit with another success — a cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.”
In 1972, Taylor famously married fellow singer/songwriter Carly Simon, a union that unfortunately ended in divorce eleven years later. James’ singing career experienced many ups and downs throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, but he continued to record, tour, and maintain a devoted following of fans who continued to love and enthusiastically support his singular voice and songwriting style. In 1985, James married Kathryn Walker, another union that lasted only 11 years. Today he is happily remarried to Kim Smedvig, the director of public relations and marketing for the Boston Symphony; they are raising 13-year-old twin boys. Taylor’s children with Carly Simon—Ben and Sally—have embarked on musical careers of their own.
James continues to tirelessly tour around the world, and has received numerous Grammy Awards and nominations, and has been inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has released more than 20 albums to date. North Carolinians consider James Taylor a “favorite son,” and believe that the Chapel Hill boy who wrote and sang “Carolina On My Mind” will also continue to keep the Tar Heel State in his heart.
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