James Taylor is not a native North Carolinian, but he’s an adopted son to be sure. His father was dean of the medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill, and “Carolina in My Mind” remains a signature song. So Tar Heels feel a bit of pride in Taylor’s being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Taylor, 67, has been a productive and inspiring songwriter and performer for 40 years now, an articulate conveyor of the feelings of joy and pain of the human condition. His music transcends classification and category. Just saying “James Taylor” telegraphs exactly the type of music someone is discussing. It’s part-rock, part-pop, part-country, part ... the truth is, it’s just “James Taylor.”
Taylor’s life began as privileged, but he had his troubles years ago with drugs, which he overcame. His story of success is an utterly American story, and he tells the stories of others in his songs, which are clean and poetic and have themes with which so many listeners can identify. In concert, he projectsa happiness and contentment that are contagious.
He accepted his medal with grace and appreciation and with humility that is something of a trademark. Any claim North Carolina makes to be a part of James Taylor’s story is an enhancement for the state itself.