James Taylor

On this date in 1948, musician James Vernon Taylor was born in Boston, then grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C. He first took up the guitar while at Milton Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts. He began writing songs during an early bout with depression in 1965 and became addicted to heroin, a habit he had kicked by the mid-1970s.

Taylor’s breakthrough album was Sweet Baby James (1970) and his best-known song was “Fire and Rain,” which stayed in the Top 10 from 1970-72. “You’ve Got a Friend” (1971), written by Carole King, was his first No. 1 hit. Rolling Stone magazine has called Taylor “the archetypal ‘sensitive’ singer/songwriter of the seventies” and The New York Times dubbed him “a Troubadour from the 70s.”

Every album he released from 1977 to 2007 sold over 1 million copies. He enjoyed a resurgence during the late 1990s and 2000s, when he recorded some of his most-awarded work, including “Hourglass,” “October Road” and “Covers.” He achieved his first No. 1 album in the U.S. in 2015 with “Before This World,” his 17th studio recording. “Hourglass” (1997), contains “spirituals for agnostics,” Taylor has said. The song “Up From Your Life” begins “God’s not at home.”

Taylor has done benefits for numerous charitable causes. He wrote some of the songs for the Broadway musical “Working” based on the work of Studs Terkel, and appeared as a truck driver in the PBS version of the play.

He was married to singer Carly Simon from 1972-83 and had a daughter, Sally, and a son, Ben, with her. He married Kathryn Walker in 1985 and divorced in 1995. In 2001 he married Caroline “Kim” Smedvig, director of marketing for the Boston Symphony. That same year they had twin sons, Henry and Rufus, born via surrogate.

“My father was an atheist, as distinguished from an agnostic. He felt that anyone who suggested that they represented God was to be deeply distrusted, that anyone who opened his mouth saying that he represented anything divine was a charlatan,” Taylor told music journalist Paul Zollo in a 2009 interview. Asked if he shared that feeling, Taylor said, “Sure, that’s what I was given as a set of beliefs from my father.”

PHOTO: Taylor at Carnegie Hall in 2011; Joella Marano photo under CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation