Since the early Seventies, James Taylor’s insightful folk pop tunes have illustrated a deep country-music influence and have, subsequently, influenced contemporary country artists of the past two decades. When Taylor was honored at the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors before this month in Washington, D.C., two of his musical tributes came from Garth Brooks and Darius Rucker.
Brooks, whose 2013 boxed set, Blame It All on My Roots, included Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” chose instead to focus on the more universally popular “Shower the People,” as President Obama and the First Lady looked on. The vocalist, backed by a gospel choir, became visibly choked up mid-performance. (View the video below.)
Rucker picked a medley of two songs as his tribute to Taylor. First up was the 1970 cowboy lullaby “Sweet Baby James,” which has since become one of Taylor’s most beloved melodies and has been performed in the vast majority of his live concerts, in spite of having neglected as a single when it was first released. The second choice, Carolina In My Mind, represented not only Taylor’s upbringing including Rucker’s as well. The scenic melody, initially recorded by Taylor in 1968 for the Beatles’ Apple Records, was reworked in 1976 for Taylor’s Greatest Hits LP. (Watch Rucker’s tribute below.)
Also on hand to pay homage to Taylor during the Kennedy Center Honors were Sheryl Crow, who performed “Fire and Rain,” and President Bill Clinton, who spoke of Taylor’s influence and friendship with the Clinton family.