Biography of Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris
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Emmylou Harris is a country and folk singer known for her collaborations with Gram Parsons, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt. She was born on April 2, 1947, in Birmingham, Alabama. Harris is the recipient of 14 Grammy Awards and three Country Music Association Awards.

Fast Facts: Emmylou Harris

• Occupation: Country Singer

• Known For: Her collaborations with Gram Parsons and Dolly Parton, her albums "Pieces of the Sky" and "Wrecking Ball"

• Born: April 2, 1947

• Awards: Country Music Hall of Fame, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Early Years

Harris spent her childhood in North Carolina and Woodbridge, Virginia, where she graduated from high school as valedictorian. She then went to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on a drama scholarship. Harris began studying music seriously and learned how to play Bob Dylan and Joan Baez songs on the guitar.

Harris dropped out of college and moved to New York City to pursue a music career, working as a waitress and performing on the Greenwich Village circuit. She married songwriter Tom Slocum in 1969 and recorded her first LP, "Gliding Bird," in 1970. Shortly after, Harris's label folded and she found out she was pregnant. Harris and Slocum moved to Nashville in hopes of hitting it big in the country music scene, but their marriage fell apart. Harris moved back to her parents' farm outside Washington, D.C. to raise her newborn daughter.

Harris continued playing in D.C. and met several members of the legendary country-rock band the Flying Burrito Brothers while performing with a trio at a local bar. The band introduced her to their ex-frontman, Gram Parsons, who was just beginning his solo career and looking for a female artist to sing with on his first project, "GP."

The two hit it off immediately and Harris became Parsons' protégé. She joined him and his backup act, the Fallen Angels, on tour in 1973, after which they returned to the studio to begin work on Parsons' sophomore release, "Grievous Angel." Tragically, Parsons was found dead of a heart attack in a California hotel room that September, and the album was released posthumously.

Country Stardom

Harris formed her own group after Parsons' death, the Angel Band, and after moving to Los Angeles she signed with Reprise Records. Producer Brian Ahern – who would become her husband and produce her next 10 albums – helped Harris release her first major solo debut, "Pieces of the Sky," in 1975. The album featured an eclectic mix of covers from The Beatles to Merle Haggard.

In 1976 Harris released her second album, "Elite Hotel," which spawned the No. 1 hits "Together Again" and "Sweet Dreams." The album also earned her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

After her big break, Harris released four more albums by the end of the decade: "Luxury Liner," "Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town," "Profile: The Best of Emmylou Harris," and "Blue Kentucky Girl," which earned her a second Grammy and marked her sixth gold album in a row.

Harris continued to ride the wave of her success through the 1980s. Her albums "Roses in the Snow" and "Evangeline" both went gold. Then several indispensable members of the Hot Band left to embark on solo careers and her marriage to Ahern deteriorated. Her follow up albums "Cimarron" and "White Shoes" weren't nearly as successful as her previous works. Harris and Ahern divorced in 1983 and Harris found herself back in Nashville.

'Wrecking Ball'

Harris released "The Ballad of Sally Rose," a semi-autobiographical work, in 1985, with the help of singer-songwriter Paul Kennerley. The album was more of a critical than a commercial success. Many critics viewed it as a pivotal moment in Harris' career. Her unique musical style combining pop, folk, and the blues now sounded noticeably more countrified.

Harris and Kennerley wed in 1985. Two more solo albums, "Thirteen" and "The Angel Band," followed, and in 1987 she recorded "Trio" with fellow country stars Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. The album has since sold more than four million copies worldwide.

Harris began the 1990s on a good note with the releases of "Brand New Dance," "Duets," and "At the Ryman," a live album in which she was joined by her new backup band, The Nash Ramblers. Her marriage to Kennerley ended in 1993. Harris's next two albums, "Cowgirl's Prayer" and "Songs of the West," were typical of her country sound.

She decided to change things up with 1995's "Wrecking Ball." The album, one of her most experimental to date, is noted for its unique sound (courtesty of producer Daniel Lanois). "Wrecking Ball" was a massive critical success, earning Harris a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

In 2000, Harris released "Red Dirt Girl," her first album of original work in five years. "Hard Bargain," a tribute to Gram Parsons, appeared in 2011. Harris released "Old Yellow Moon," a duets album with former bandmate Rodney Crowell, in 2013. It won the pair a Grammy for Best Americana Album.

Most Popular Songs

Harris has won 14 Grammy Awards and three Country Music Association Awards. She was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1992 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. Some of her most popular songs include:

  • "This Is Us"
  • "If I Needed You"
  • "Two More Bottles of Wine"
  • "Red Dirt Girl"
  • "If This Is Goodbye"
  • "Boulder to Birmingham"
  • "Pancho and Lefty"