A legend in her own time, Emmylou Harris is an icon in the worlds of folk, country and Americana and a role model for female artists of all genres. Now she has been named No. 33 on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice , a list of the greatest artists in history chosen by country stars themselves.
One by one, the countdown is revealed each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.
Harris famously emerged as the duet partner of country rock hero Gram Parsons and, following his untimely death in 1973, carried on with her own eclectic vision. With 26 studio albums to date, Harris has collaborated with luminaries from across the musical spectrum from Tammy Wynette to Dave Matthews. Among her achievements are 13 Grammy awards and three Country Music Association awards.
Beyond her enduring music, Harris has also been influential as an activist for a variety of causes. She is arguably responsible for the restoration of the Ryman Auditorium — the longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry — commonly referred to as the Mother Church of Country Music. After the building was abandoned in the mid-1970s and left vacant until the early 1990s, Harris organized and recorded a series of concerts in the deteriorating theater, galvanizing public support and leading to its renewal as one of the nation’s most respected concert venues.
“I’ve always looked up to her so much because she’s a woman singing the kind of music she wanted to sing and doing it the way she wanted to do it,” Monroe said. “If it was a bluegrass record, so be it. It was something she was proud of, and she always stood true to that.
“She just sang, and there wasn’t a lot of extra to it. She would play her guitar and sing her heart out. And to me, personally, that’s what gets to me when I see somebody doing that — more than choreography or whatever it is that I can’t do. I guess that’s why I can relate to Emmylou because that’s what I can do the best is just play guitar and sing things I know about. So she’s definitely been a hero of mine for a long time.”
Crow agreed that Harris is an inspiration to women everywhere.
“I get asked all the time, ’Where do you see yourself in 10 years?’ And I always think about Emmy,” Crow revealed. “She’s bigger than a musician to me. She loves music. She has an unbelievable dictionary of references. She knows so many people’s songs. She’s still really into music. And she, even in these last 10 years, has written some of the best songs she’s ever had.
“It doesn’t matter what your age is, you can still write an unbelievable song and your fan base will still be there and you’ll still be moving the molecules. … She’s cool and sexy, and she’s the leader of the band, and she’s always been that.”
For Nichols, Harris’ natural ability as a duet partner sets her apart.
“Her catalog is brilliant, but some of her collaborations are, to me, impressive, too,” he said. “The first time I heard Keith Whitley’s ’Would These Arms Be in Your Way,’ I’m like ’God, who is that singing harmony? It sounds beautiful.’ It’s Emmylou Harris. … Only she could turn a very simple background vocal on a song like that, from one of my favorite (artists), and make me pay attention to her.”
Parton, Harris and Linda Ronstadt released an album called Trio in 1987.
“Emmylou is one of the great people of the world,” Parton said of her longtime friend. “She’s got such a good heart. She also has a great ear for music. She has chosen some of the best songs. Even on the whole Trio project with Linda and myself, Emmy was mainly responsible for choosing the songs.
“She has a great voice,” Parton continued. “She’s got that lonesome sound that I love in her voice. You can just feel it. She’s a great guitar player, as well, and our voices blend really nice. I love the Trio project with Emmy and Linda. It’s one of my favorite things that I have ever done in my whole career.”
Tune in to CMT Hot 20 Countdown each Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. ET/PT to check out the next honoree revealed on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice.