Hall column: James Taylor has a Salisbury connection — and a very nice mom
By Sarah Hall
I’ve been reading the book “Making Notes: Music in the Carolinas,” compiled and edited by Charlottean Ann Wicker. It’s a collection of essays about past and present musicians who have a connection to North or South Carolina.
Most of the chapters are written either by journalists or by musicians themselves. It covers pop, jazz, folk, rock, classical, bluegrass and country.
It’s a good book for a person like me (busy, with a short attention span) because the essays are all just two or three pages. I’ve been reading a few now and then.
With this book you read two pages and you’re through with that topic. Or you can read two paragraphs and think “That’s all I need to know about that person,” and go to the next chapter. It doesn’t matter, because you start fresh with every essay.
It’s also a good book for someone who can’t sleep, but who is too groggy to follow a story line. When I was reading the chapter about singer James Taylor at 3 a.m. I was barely conscious. When I read that his parents were married in Salisbury during World War II, it barely registered, then I thought “wait a minute” and I backed up.
I already knew James Taylor grew up in Chapel Hill, where his father would eventually become dean of UNC’s medical school. Isaac Taylor was from North Carolina, but attended Harvard’s medical school and was chief resident of Boston’s Massachussetts General, which explains how he met his future wife, New Englander Gertrude Woodard.
But why did they get married in Salisbury? There was no explanation given.
The next day I decided to research this mystery. There was no record of the wedding in the newspaper’s archives. I checked out James Taylor’s biography from Rowan Public Lbrary and carried it around a few days without reading it. I did look at the pictures in the middle.
I contacted the essay’s author, David Perlmutt from the Charlotte Observer. He had gotten the part about Salisbury from Trudy Taylor herself, but he didn’t know the details of the wedding.
I decided the fastest way to answer my questions would be to audaciously call Mrs. Taylor and ask her about it. Finding her number was easier than I expected. She answered after two rings.
“Is this Trudy Taylor? James Taylor’s mother?” I asked.
She said she was. So I told her who I was, and that I write for a newspaper, and about the book of N.C. musicians that her son James is included in.
“All of my children are musical” she said.
I knew this was no imposter. Only a real mother would say something like that. I assured her that the musical abilities of James’ brothers and sister were described in the book as well.
Not wanting to take up too much of her time, I got right down to business, asking her why she got married in Salisbury.
“Yes, it was Salisbury, but I don’t remember it very well-that was a long time ago.”
She was being very patient with this newspaper woman who called her out of the blue with a totally unexpected question about something that happened over 60 years ago.
“It was during World War II. My husband was working in Morganton. We had planned to get married in Boston, but with the times and everything being the way they were, and the red tape, it was just not convenient.”
Trudy came down to North Carolina by train. Ike drove from Morganton to meet her in Salisbury.
“We went to this nice, pragmatic judge in the city hall there, and we got married. Then we got in the car, and went to Morganton.”
I heard a clock chime in the background. I imagined Trudy sitting in the parlor of a fine New England home. There are probably photos of her children, Alex, James, Kate, Livingston and Hugh on the mantle nearby.
I told her son James would be performing in Charlotte on May 29.
“I enjoyed living in North Carolina,” she said. “Is it hot there today?” she asked.
“No, it’s very pleasant,” I told her.
“We had too much snow this winter,” she said, politely making conversation as I tried to think of something profound to say. I was thumbing through the James Taylor biography and I came again upon the pictures in the center.
I was going to talk about snow, but instead I said “people have told my husband he looks like James Taylor.”
“They’re probably related,” said Trudy. “My husband’s family has a long history in North Carolina.”
She told me about how the Taylors came over from Scotland to New Bern in the 1700’s and we discussed family history for a while. Then I asked if she gets tired of people bothering her about her famous son.
“I’m used to it” she answered simply.
I thanked her for her time, and she said “thank you for calling, dear.”
James Taylor’s mama called me “dear.”
n n nContact Sarah Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-797-4271.
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