With all due respect to Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, where the hell is the movie that celebrates Emmylou Harris’ life? Of course, it’s a question that practically answers itself — Harris’ career and life are so factually cinemascopic, most filmmakers would be daunted by the dual prospects of trying to figure out which of her stories to tell and how to make her unbelievable accomplishments seem like they haven’t been fictionalized for dramatic effect.
After graduating high school as class valedictorian and earning a drama scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Harris fired her musical ambition by learning the songs of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. She dropped out, moved to New York City and waited tables while playing the Folk circuit during Greenwich Village’s heyday. She married, recorded her debut, Gliding Bird, had a baby girl and divorced in short order.
When she resumed performing, she was spotted by members of the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1971; Chris Hillman recommended her to former Byrds/Flying Burrito Brothers member Gram Parsons, who was seeking a female collaborator for his debut solo album, GP. That fortuitous pairing changed Harris’ life in countless ways. Parsons gave Harris a master class in Country’s history, introduced her to The Louvin Brothers and lit the path she’s followed over the past four and a half decades. Parsons’ overdose death just two years into their musical partnership has reverberated through Harris’ work ever since.
In the intervening years, Harris has released 25 studio albums, three live sets, 11 compilations and 70 singles. She recorded the platinum-selling Trio album with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, has done duet albums with Mark Knopfler and Rodney Crowell and continually pushes the envelope of Country/Americana with her various groups, including The Hot Band, The Nash Ramblers and Spyboy. Her last four albums — Red Dirt Girl, Stumble Into Grace, All I Intended to Be and Hard Bargain — landed in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Country chart, and over the course of her career, she’s earned 39 Grammy nominations, winning 13 times. She also won a Golden Globe for the song she contributed to Brokeback Mountain. Harris is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, came in at No. 5 on CMT’s 40 Greatest Women of Country Music list and has lent her spectacular voice to an uncountable number of other artists’ work, a good many of them a veritable who’s who of musical achievement.
All of that is the Cliff Notes version of Emmylou Harris’ incredible career, one of the greatest of the last, the current or any century.
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