James Taylor, Symphony Came to Carolina for Lifetime Achievement Awards

James Taylor and the N.C. Symphony performed Taylor’s widely beloved – and UNC’s unofficial anthem – Carolina in My Mind before a capacity crowd in Memorial Hall on Sunday.

The event marked Chancellor James Moeser’s presentation to Taylor and the orchestra with the University’s 2006 lifetime achievement awards for the performing arts. The orchestra also performed Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell (The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) by Benjamin Britten.

Taylor, who grew up in Chapel Hill, spoke to the audience about being far from home and homesick in the late 1960s when he wrote the song that became an enduring hit. “I’ve sung it so many times,” he said, saying it “draws a line through my own personal history and connects me to a place that I go to in my dreams . a landscape that will forever be a part of me.”

During the extended ovation following Carolina in My Mind, Taylor looked to symphony conductor Grant Llewellyn, who gestured for him to retrieve his guitar from back stage. He ran off, returning to present an encore with his quiet Secret O’ Life from 1977 with its Chapel Hill reference: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time / Any fool can do it / There ain’t nothing to it / Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill / But since we’re on our way down / We might as well enjoy the ride. . It’s just a lovely ride.”

The full ensemble – Taylor, the orchestra, Moeser and UNC’s Executive Director for the Arts Emil Kang – also led the crowd in a rousing rendition of Hark the Sound, with a grinning Llewellyn directing the group to sing the “I’m a Tar Heel born / I’m a Tar Heel bred” stanza twice.

Taylor was 3 in 1952 when his family moved to Chapel Hill as his father, Dr. Isaac Taylor, was joining the UNC School of Medicine faculty; Dr. Taylor was later dean of the school, from 1964 to 1971, the same year that TIME magazine featured James Taylor on its cover to herald him as the harbinger of “the singer/songwriter era.” In 2000, Taylor was inducted into both the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Founded in 1932 in Chapel Hill, the N.C. Symphony in its first three years performed more than 140 concerts in 50 towns and cities statewide, mostly with unpaid musicians from local communities. Its programs now include Children’s Education Concerts, which have brought the symphony into North Carolina schools.

Both Taylor and Llewellyn, on behalf of the symphony, were presented with Carolina blue vases crafted by noted potter Ben Owen III of Seagrove marking the Carolina Performing Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes an alumnus or alumna, organization or exceptional individual whose work in the performing arts has greatly contributed to life at the University and enriched American culture.

Recipients are selected for their efforts to advance the arts locally and nationally; for accomplishments acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the public; and because their work has stood the test of time.

Last year, the first awards were presented to Richard Adler ’43 and Andy Griffith ’49. Also receiving a 2005 award was Maxine Swalin, who also attended Sunday’s event. With her late husband, Benjamin, she revived the N.C. Symphony on the UNC campus in the 1940s.

The event benefited Carolina Performing Arts, now presenting its second expanded season of high-profile artists, made possible by Memorial Hall’s renovation. Four hundred free tickets to the event were reserved for UNC students.

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