Happy Birthday Emmylou Harris

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Happy Birthday Emmylou Harris

It was always a given that we were going to be offering Emmylou Harris the best of all possible birthday wishes, mostly because, well, she’s Emmylou Harris, and she’s awesome. Even as we planned our piece, though, we already knew full well that she wouldn’t be hurting for people to wish her a happy birthday.

Seriously, have you looked her up on Wikipedia? There aren’t a lot of artists who’ve spread their gift of music to so many other artists that they actually have separate pages for “Collaborations A-F,” “Collaborations G-K,” “Collaborations L-Q,” and “Collaborations R-Z.” We’re sure that she must’ve turned down someone’s request to work with them at some point in her long and illustrious musical career, but we also suspect that it was accompanied by the most heartfelt apology you’re likely to hear. She’s just that type of person.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1947, Harris grew up in North Carolina and Virginia, graduating from high school as valedictorian and earning a drama scholarship to UNC Greensboro, but she ultimately dropped out of college in favor of pursuing a musical career in New York, working as a waitress while performing folk songs in Greenwich Village coffeehouses.

Although Harris recorded her first album, Gilded Bird, in 1969, it wasn’t until she crossed paths with Chris Hillman in 1971 that she really started down the road of success, thanks to his suggestion that she might be just the female vocalist that Gram Parsons was looking for. (40-year-old spoiler alert: she totally was.)The collaboration between Harris and Parsons was short-lived, owing to the fact that Parsons himself was short-lived – he died of an accidental overdose in September 1973 – but the beautiful work they did together on his albums GP and Grievous Angel still has the ability to send shivers down your spine.

Harris’s first major-label album, 1975’s Pieces of the Sky, remains a country classic, revealing the diversity of her musical tastes with her choices of covers, which ranged from Merle Haggard (“The Bottle Let Me Down” to the Beatles (“For No One”). It was a methodology which she maintained for her next album, Elite Hotel, as well, which featured another Fab Four classic (“Here, There and Everywhere”) alongside her takes on songs by Buck Owens (“Together Again”) and Hank Williams (“Jambalaya”).

Throughout the ‘70s and into the early ‘80s, Harris provided both prolific and popular, earning seven consecutive gold records, and even as she became less popular on the pop charts, she continued to thrive on the country charts, even dipping her toe into the world of gospel for 1987’s Angel Band. As she entered the ‘90s, her live album At the Ryman captured the attention of a new generation of country fans, and 1995’s Wrecking Ball is argued by some to be one of the best albums of her entire career. Given that it won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording, those people could be onto something…but let’s not act as though that’s the only Grammy she’s ever won. She’s got a couple of ‘em for Best Country Vocal Performance (for Elite Hotel and Blue Kentucky Girl), she shares one with Roy Orbison for their duet on “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again” and another with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt for their Trio album, and…well, honestly, this is a case where the list really does go on and on, all the way up to this year, when her duets album, Old Yellow Moon, won for Best Americana Album.

Any playlist we might put together still won’t feature every highlight from Harris’s career, mostly because it’d be so unwieldy that you might as well just spin her entire discography…which wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, come to think of it. Still, we’ve tried to pay a little tribute to her, at least, so give it a spin and wish Emmylou the best birthday she can possibly have.