2008 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee: Emmy Lou Harris

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Emmylou Harris was born April 2, 1947 in Birmingham, Ala., to Walter
and Eugenia Harris. Her father was a Marine Corps officer and the family
moved as her father's position required. She spent much of her childhood in
North Carolina before moving to Woodbridge, Va., while in her teens.

Harris took up guitar as a teenager inspired by the folk music of Joan
Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger. Starving-artist stints in
New York City and Nashville led to regular club work in Washington D.C.
where Chris Hillman first saw her perform. Hillman and Country-rock
visionary Gram Parsons had been band mates in The Byrds and The Flying
Burrito Brothers, but now Parsons was on his own doing solo material and
had told his former band mate he was looking for "a chick singer" for his
first solo record.

Hillman had seen Harris perform at a club in DC and told Parsons about
her, but they didn't know how to get in touch with her. A chance encounter
between Harris' babysitter, Hillman and Parsons led to Harris flying to Los
Angeles in 1972 to sing on Parsons' first solo record. Harris went on to
become his permanent duet partner setting a new standard for harmonies and
duet vocals.

After Parsons' untimely death in 1973, Harris emerged as a solo star
with Pieces of the Sky in 1975. The album electrified the Country Music
world, becoming her first in a series of annual Gold or Platinum albums
through the '70s.

Around the same time Harris created the Hot Band featuring many of the
musicians from Pieces of the Sky. Among the first members were Elvis
Presley's bassist Emory Gordy Jr., pianist Glen D. Hardin and lead
guitarist James Burton. After nine months Burton left the band due to
conflicts with Presley's schedule and was replaced by Albert Lee. Other
original Hot Band members included pedal steel player Hank DeVito, drummer
John Ware and a young singer/songwriter/guitarist named Rodney Crowell.
With the Hot Band backing her, Harris opened shows for a diverse group of
artists ranging from Elton John to Conway Twitty, James Taylor and more,
and quickly gained a reputation for its superb musicianship on record and
on the road.

Crowell would leave the band in 1978 for a solo career, though he would
continue to perform with Harris as schedules allowed. For the next four
years, Crowell's place in the Hot Band was filled by Ricky Skaggs. Skaggs
also left for a solo career and was replaced by Barry Tashian. When Hardin
left he was briefly replaced by another former Presley sideman, Tony Brown.
In 1980, Brown, DeVito and Gordy left the Hot Band to tour behind Crowell
as the Cherry Bombs.

Her next three releases (Elite Hotel, Luxury Liner and Quarter Moon in
a Ten-Cent Town) made her a Country-rock leader, and since then Harris has
been regarded as a key figure in the movement that united rock audiences
with Country traditionalists. She was among the artists who made Country
Music "hip" and brought it to a vast youth market. Then she led the way
back to neo- traditionalist sounds with 1979's Blue Kentucky Girl. The
following year, Roses In the Snow paved the road toward the bluegrass
revival of the '80s. Harris rose to become the authentic voice of Country
with these albums, as well as Evangeline, Cimarron and Bluebird.

Over the next few years, Harris released several solo projects, but her
most successful album during this time was 1987's Trio, with Dolly Parton
and Linda Ronstadt. The three singers had talked of recording an album
together for more than a decade, and it was worth the wait. The
critically-acclaimed project was certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales
of one million units and reached No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 Album
Chart. The trio would also win the 1988 CMA Vocal Event of the Year Award.
Eleven years later, the women reunited to release Trio II, which earned the
three singers a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for
their performance on "After the Gold Rush" and a Gold certification from
the RIAA.

By the early 1990s Harris changed her sound again with the acoustic
band The Nash Ramblers, featuring Larry Atamanuik, Sam Bush, Roy Huskey
Jr., Al Perkins and Jon Randall. Together, they honored Country Music's
most legendary concert hall with the At the Ryman album, winning the 1992
Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group

Three years later, Harris took a leading role in yet another musical
revolution-the Americana movement that gave Country Music its "alternative"
wing. Continuing to expand boundaries, this time she paired with producer
Daniel Lanois and reinvented her sound. The result was her 1995 watershed
album, Wrecking Ball, for which she earned another Grammy Award. The album
was hailed by critics as a masterpiece and portrayed a new side of Harris -
spiritual yet sexual, and a woman with very eclectic tastes. She followed
Wrecking Ball with the live album Spyboy and closed the decade with a
powerful album of duets with Ronstadt, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions.

Harris performed "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" with Alison Krauss
and Gillian Welch for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? movie soundtrack
album, which became a phenomenon in 2000. The album was named the 2001 CMA
Album of the Year, the 2001 Grammy Album of the Year and the 2001 Grammy
Soundtrack Album of the Year, among other honors.

With 2000's Red Dirt Girl, she released the first album of her career
that was nearly entirely comprised of Harris-penned songs. The album, and
its follow-up, 2003's Stumble Into Grace, revealed her remarkable
songwriting talent, and further demonstrated Harris' diverse musical
influences, mixing world music instrumentation and rock rhythms into her
Country and folk confidence and verve.

In 2006, she teamed with guitar virtuoso Mark Knopfler to release the
album All the Roadrunning, which had been recorded over seven years. Also
that year, she was a featured performer in the documentary Neil Young:
Heart of Gold.

In 2007, Rhino Records celebrated Harris' distinguished career by
releasing Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems, a DVD and 4-CD box set
featuring previously unreleased material, demos, studio tracks,
collaborative work with other artists, and a collection of videos and
performances beginning with the Hot Band in the 1970s. Her forthcoming
studio album will be released on Nonesuch Records in the spring.

The wide range of Harris' repertoire is mirrored by the musicians who
have sought her out as a collaborator. She has recorded with artists from
diverse points on the musical compass including The Band, Bright Eyes,
Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Vince Gill, George Jones, Little
Feat, Lyle Lovett, Bill Monroe, Roy Orbison, Bonnie Raitt, Don Williams,
Lucinda Williams, Tammy Wynette, Neil Young, and many others.

Harris has received three CMA Awards, including Female Vocalist of the
Year in 1980. She has received 12 Grammy Awards, including four for Best
Country Vocal Performance, Female (1976, 1979, 1984, 2005) and two for Best
Contemporary Folk Album (1995 for Wrecking Ball and 2000 for Red Dirt
Girl). She is a member of the Grand Ole Opry and serves as Trustee Emeritus
of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 1999, Billboard honored her with its prestigious Century Award,
aptly calling her a "truly venturesome, genre-transcending pathfinder." Los
Angeles Times praised the unfaltering quality of her work, saying, Harris
"has made consistently outstanding musical choices over her 35-plus-year
career." But perhaps even more outstanding than her accolades is her
beautifully crystalline voice, about which New York Times says, it
"inhabits her songs like a wraith, intangible but omnipresent."

--From The CMA Press Release

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