Carole King
Carole King and James Taylor performed at Boston Strong, a concert to benefit victims of the Boston marathon bombings.

“Music touches people in a way few things do,” says Grammy-winning folk singer and chart-topping songwriter Carole King. “There’s a truth in music… and that’s one of the things I love about it.”

It’s not only through her music that King has touched the world—she’s also an accomplished environmental activist and crusader for animal rights. So for MusiCares and The Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow, the decision to make King the 2014 Person of the Year—and celebrate her with a collaborative tribute concert two nights before the 56th annual Grammy Awards—was a no-brainer.

“Every year we look at the landscape of iconic artists—artists who have made an impact on music and culture but also for whom the artist community has great respect,” Portnow says. King, 71, certainly fits that bill—she penned her first hit at the age of 17 (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by The Shirelles), has seen more than 100 of her songs become hits recorded by acts like The Righteous Brothers and Celine Dion, and created one of the best-selling albums of all time (1971’s Tapestry, which won four Grammys). Last year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy and became the first woman ever to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, awarded by President Obama in an event at the White House.

Carole King
Folk allure: king in 1971, the year she released her multiple-Grammy-winning album Tapestry.

But also, says Portnow, the Person of the Year must be “somebody who in their own way has exhibited that they have an interest in philanthropy, giving back, and [who] has a great heart. When you look at those criteria, it would be hard to think of anyone more deserving than Carole.”

To wit: In the late ’80s, the songstress became involved with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a grassroots consortium of groups seeking to protect the Northern Rocky Mountains, and began visiting members of Congress about the protection bill. “I realized that because people knew my music, they were willing to open their doors to me,” says King, who has lived in rural Idaho since the 1980s. “I’ve been working on it for 23 years… but I’m nothing if not persistent. I will keep working on it until we get that legislation [the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act to preserve permanent wilderness in the Rockies] passed.” King is also passionate about protecting wild horses. “People may not know, but within herds there are family bands of wild horses. There are ways to control their population, but instead they round them up, separate the families, and truck them away for long-term holding,” says King. “As of this day there are approximately 50,000 horses waiting to be adopted, which is just not happening, so I’ve become an activist for that cause as well.”

Carole King
President Obama honors Carole King as the recipient of the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

King’s passion doesn’t just lie in the great outdoors. Last year, the four-times-married mother of four performed at Alicia Keys’s Black Ball to benefit Keep A Child Alive, and following the Boston Marathon bombings, played a benefit concert with James Taylor. “I love Boston,” says King, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. “It was important to me to go there and show the love. When we found out we were both going to be there, James said, ‘Why don’t we just blend our set like we did on tour?’ It was great fun.” The pair goes way back to 1971, when Taylor hit No. 1 with King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”

It is fitting, then, that Taylor is one of the tribute chairs for the upcoming MusiCares benefit, as well as part of a lineup including Lady Gaga, Dixie Chicks, Steven Tyler, Bette Midler, and Jason Mraz. “I’m following in the footsteps of many, many great people who have been honored, like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and my friend James Taylor in 2006—I performed at his event,” says King. “It’s pretty good company. It’s hard to describe, [but the honor] made me feel great, obviously.”

While the actual rundown of the tribute show is a closely guarded secret, King lets slip that Lady Gaga “jumped in almost immediately and claimed ‘You’ve Got a Friend,’ which left James and me like, Ohh, what are we going to do? We figured it out [though] and it will be great.” Whoever sings what, one thing is for sure: It will be a memorable night. To King, the most exciting part is “the idea of all these artists coming together for the wonderful cause of MusiCares.” Portnow expects “many millions” will be raised for the nonprofit health and human service organization that helps down-on-their-luck music industry people. A one-of-a-kind, surprise-filled, star-studded extravaganza and a windfall for this critical music industry cause—no wonder King is enthusiastic. “I’ve been a very, very lucky musician, so I’m thrilled to be part of helping them raise that money.”

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>