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.
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."
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 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.