James Taylor sings praises of Hillary Clinton
Singer-songwriter James Taylor is back on the road again, not for public concert dates but in support of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
An outspoken advocate of her candidacy since May 2015, as he was of President Obama, Taylor is helping raise money for the Democratic presidential nominee by performing at private events arranged for donors.
He returned to Massachusetts for the weekend after a two-week campaign swing up and down the West Coast, performing with his friend, star cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as longtime collaborator and pal Owen Young, a veteran Boston Symphony cellist.
"My role is to help set the stage for the contributors, mostly at private events," Taylor said in a phone interview from Seattle last week just before his flight back to Boston.
Upcoming campaign stops, in addition to Boston, include a Washington, D.C., suburb and several spots in the battleground state of North Carolina, where he grew up after his family relocated from Boston to Chapel Hill when he was three.
"We don't need to be terrified of Donald J. Trump to be enthusiastic over Hillary Rodham Clinton," Taylor stressed. "I've been a supporter of hers for many years and can't believe what she has endured to get through this election marathon."
The Berkshire-based performer, who lives with his family in the town of Washington, described Clinton as "deeply qualified to lead, she has the experience and temperament to be an excellent president."
He cautioned against complacency as her lead has widened in the most recent polls. "Things could still go sideways," he commented, "and taking a chance on Trump winning is an extremely risky thing to do."
Taylor, who travels with his wife, Kim, while their twin sons Rufus and Henry attend their first year of boarding school at the Milton Academy, also described a "desperate need" for campaign reform.
"The process is broken," he asserted, citing the length of the campaign, gerrymandering of local districts and the avalanche of money funneled into campaigns through the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision that election spending is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.
The ruling opened the floodgates for lavish spending by corporations, unions and super-Political Action Committees (PACs) to support or oppose candidates.
"We need to repair our electoral process," Taylor said. "We could learn from other democracies."
At the private fundraisers, Taylor explained that he discusses his feelings for the candidate and the connection to her campaign. His set list includes favorites such as "Shower the People," "You've Got a Friend," "Here Comes the Sun" and "Slap Leather."
"These have slight political connections," he said, "but the idea is to reward the audience."
Noting that "I'm not an expert or a political scientist, but just another citizen," Taylor — who described Barack Obama as "my favorite president so far, in my lifetime" — said: "We've got to keep our eyes on the prize and work as hard we can to elect Hillary Clinton as president."
When the Taylors embarked on their West Coast swing, they were less than pleased to find all the TV screens in the American Airlines lounge at Logan Airport tuned to Fox News. As reported by the Boston Globe, Kim Taylor asked for a channel change, only to be told by the bartender: "This is the Bill O'Reilly corner, honey." Nevertheless, the TVs were soon displaying Boston's local Channel 5.
Taylor is among the celebrities to be honored in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 4 at the 39th annual Kennedy Center Honors. CBS will televise the awards gala, featuring performances and tributes, on Dec. 27.
Another star with Berkshire roots, actress Elizabeth Banks, also has been active on the campaign trail. The Pittsfield native of "Pitch Perfect" fame moderated a recent "Family Town Hall" event with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton in Haverford, Pa., and last summer performed a version of "Fight Song" at the Democratic National Convention. The video became the campaign's unofficial anthem.
Banks, who grew up on Brown Street, is a daughter of Ann and Mark P. Mitchell. A 1992 graduate of Pittsfield High, she changed her name after embarking on a show business career to avoid confusion with the actress Elizabeth Mitchell.
Appearing at a Clinton rally on the University of Pennsylvania campus, she told supporters: "In this election, we're really looking in the mirror as a nation and going, 'Do we want to live our ideal of equality, the one we based our entire country on, that we go around the world talking about, that our military fights for every day around the world? Or are we going to go backwards and elect Donald Trump?' "
According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, Banks told the crowd she grew up poor and attended Penn on scholarship money and Pell Grants.
"I am a product of what some politicians refer to as 'government handouts,'" she said.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
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