Fame came early to James Taylor and he was quick to exploit it for a cause.
“The show was simple, just me and a guitar,” the soft-spoken Taylor said in a recent interview at Bloomberg News world headquarters in Manhattan, recalling a Greenpeace International concert in the 1970s. “That’s how I played in those days. Usually someone would come to me with an idea, and I would get swept up in the cause.”
Four decades later, 63-year-old Taylor can look back on a charity resume that includes concerts for Sting’s Rainforest Foundation, Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and various children’s causes.
Taylor raised $1.5 million last year through two concerts called “Help for Haiti: An Intimate Evening With James Taylor.” The money went to Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health, a charity that has brought medical care to Haiti for more than 20 years.
“It’s just a great stroke of luck that I’m in the position that I’m in,” he said. “It’s a matter of how well you’re doing, and there are some things that are so compelling that you give as much as you can.”
Taylor will next contribute his time and talent as headliner at a gala concert April 12 saluting Carnegie Hall’s 120th birthday in advance of the venue’s official gala on May 5. Taylor’s tribute will raise money for the hall’s artistic and educational programs. Guests will include Sting, Bette Midler, Barbara Cook, Dianne Reeves, Steve Martin and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
‘Fire and Rain’
Taylor first played Carnegie Hall at age 22, by which time he was already shooting up the charts with hits such as “Fire and Rain,” which he says is his most successful single. In the past four decades, he has sold more than 40 million albums and won five Grammy Awards.
This month, Taylor went to the White House to receive the National Medal of Arts, the highest U.S. honor for an artist, from President Obama.
Currently touring with his son Benjamin in the U.S., Taylor says he gives about 20 percent of his yearly income to charity. He asks that a portion of his concert ticket sales go to Charity Partners, a Boston-based nonprofit that distributes the proceeds to more than 30 charities and foundations.
“Sometimes I can’t believe that the fans are willing to come out for me, but they are,” he said. “One of the reasons I’m still at it is because I’m physically fit and I’m well enough to continue to do it. It’s just good luck and being at the right place at the right time that’s made it such a great ride.”
Amid the antiwar rallies surrounding the Vietnam War and the rise of the environmental movement, Taylor said he was drawn to lend his support to the National Resources Defense Council launched in 1970, which had become a leading advocate for protecting nature and the environment. Taylor has been a member of the Defense Council’s board for 28 years.
“They have a hand in almost every piece of environmental legislation that has come out of our legislative process in the past three decades,” he said.
In 1979, he joined forces with artists such as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Graham Nash who were part of the Musicians United for Safe Energy collective to support antinuclear causes. Their “No Nukes” concert series at New York’s Madison Square Garden became the subject of a documentary film released the following year.
For the past 16 years, he has been a regular at the annual Rainforest gala concert promoted by Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler. The money supports work to protect the environment and the land rights of indigenous people.
“The opportunity to get involved with other people’s efforts and to recognize that there are people working for something specific is just a good feeling,” he said.
(“James Taylor at Carnegie Hall” is April 12 at 7 p.m. Tickets and information: http://www.carnegiehall.org or +1-212-247-7800. See http://www.jamestaylor.com/tour for Taylor’s current U.S. tour dates.)