PEOPLE readers turn to our magazine for an intriguing mix of stories, but we are perhaps best known for our chronicles of pop culture and our accounts of ordinary people swept up in extraordinary-circumstances. When it came time this year to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we decided to combine those two strengths through an event that would give something back to the readers who have made our first quarter-century possible.

First and foremost, we wanted to support charitable causes that reflect the concerns our readers have expressed over the years in letters, phone calls and in person—education, the environment and health. It was only natural for us to turn to Carole King, a pop-culture icon whose songs have become touchstones for several generations and who has long been known for her activism and social consciousness.

It all came together on Oct. 14 at New York City's Madison Square Garden with PEOPLE'S anniversary bash, Carole King: Making Music with Friends—A Concert for Our Children, Our Health & Our Planet (see Party story, page 181). King and 13 other musical artists raised nearly $1 million for the Wilderness Society, which protects America's prime forests, deserts, parks and rivers; Communities in Schools Inc., the nation's largest stay-in-school network; and the National Women's Cancer Research Alliance, a leader in funding and mobilizing the fight against cancers affecting women. "These three charities are close to the magazine's heart," says managing editor Carol Wallace. "And when you can give something back to the community, it makes our jobs all the more fulfilling."

When James Taylor, in an unannounced appearance, joined King in singing her hit "You've Got a Friend," it was simply the exclamation point to an unforgettable evening. Along with those two music giants, the crowd of 5,500 heard from such stars as Luther Vandross, Trisha Year-wood, Brian McKnight, Chrissie Hynde, Rickie Lee Jones, Babyface and Boyz II Men. "We wanted Carole because her music is so universal—and you could see from the range of performers that her songs appeal to everybody," says PEOPLE associate publisher Dan Osheyack, who spent a year and a half planning the event. Adds publisher Peter Bauer: "That it was such a diverse group says a lot about PEOPLE'S place in popular culture. We—and they—cut across generations."

Indeed, the concert was more than a fond look back. It was a celebration of the future, personified by King's own daughter Sherry Goffin-Kondor, 37, who sang her mother's "Child of Mine." Later, Goffin-Kondor marveled, "All that talent honoring my mother." But proud as she was, the star of the evening drew her greatest satisfaction from the knowledge that the sweet sounds generated onstage resonated far beyond the concert hall. "PEOPLE is about connecting with people," says King. "I love that the magazine is taking its corporate power and image and doing good with it. You can do well by doing good."