HOT DISH: Emmylou Harris Is a Bridge Builder

Her Music Continues to Cross Stylistic Boundaries

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel's Hot Dish: Cookin' With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

The fact she was valedictorian of her 1965 high school graduation class and was named Miss Woodbridge in a beauty pageant in Woodbridge, Va., seems piddling when you look back at the career of the mega-incredible Emmylou Harris.

Chris Hillman introduced Emmylou to Gram Parsons, his partner in the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Emmylou sang on Gram's solo debut album, GP, in 1972 and also on his second solo project, Grievous Angel. A tour followed with Parsons, the Fallen Angel Band and Emmylou. Parsons and Harris built a bridge between country, pop and folk. Sadly, Parsons died of a drug overdose in 1973.

Harris signed with Reprise Records, the record label that released the recordings she made with Gram. As his protégée, Emmylou held Gram's music in high esteem as she released her first major label solo album, Pieces of the Sky. Not only reaching back to the roots of country, Emmylou led a brigade of traditional musicians that fans of all genres dug -- especially the youth. A Louvin Brothers classic was reborn when Harris breathed new life into "If I Could Only Win Your Love." Her collaboration with Linda Ronstadt on "The Sweetest Gift" was beautiful and flawless -- as was Emmylou's version of Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams." It was 1976 when Harris and Ronstadt joined Dolly Parton on her television show, Dolly. My friend, Martha Hume, and I were seated on the front row and were unable to speak after being blown away by the seamless blend of three clear-as-bells voices.

Harris' Hot Band always featured A-team musicians, including Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Glen D. Hardin, James Burton, Albert Lee, Herb Pedersen, Barry Tashian, Steve Fishell and Philip Donnelly. Other members of the Hot Band included bassist Emory Gordy Jr. (a famed record producer who is married to Patty Loveless) and keyboardist Tony Brown (another famed record producer who is now a senior partner at Universal South Records).

In the '90s, Emmylou was backed by the Nash Ramblers, a group featuring equally-great musicians, including Jon Randall (guitar and mandolin), Roy Huskey Jr. (upright bass), Sam Bush (mandolin and fiddle), Al Perkins (Dobro and banjo) and Larry Atamanuik (drums). I saw this awesome group when they recorded an album live at the Ryman Auditorium.

She recorded what she pleased and, along the way, won 12 Grammys. Eight of her albums -- including Roses in the Snow, which she called her bluegrass album -- went gold. Her angelic vocals crossed lines of all music styles, and she was a musicologist who bridged music as she performed her harmonies with other artists. In 1987, she joined Ronstadt and Parton on the legendary Trio album that's one of my all-time favorites. Emmylou's angelic vocals were throughout the award-winning soundtrack of the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Emmylou drew additional critical acclaim with her recording of Bernie Taupin's Oscar-nominated song, "A Love That Will Never Grow Old," from the film, Brokeback Mountain. Taupin said it was a wonderful day in his life to have Emmylou sing his song. Even more recently, Harris toured with Elvis Costello and escorted him to the Grand Ole Opry -- where the twosome got a standing ovation on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. It was downright awesome.

As I write this, Harris is in Europe and performing songs with Mark Knopfler from their recently-released duet album, All the Roadrunning. Just another bridge she had to cross. Coming up on her 60th birthday next year, her dark curly hair has turned naturally white, her face is wrinkle free, and her vocals are recognized around the world ... just because she's Emmylou.

Dr. Strait

George Strait was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by his alma mater, Texas State University. George said, "Dr. Strait. I like the sound of that."

Hey, I also like the sound! Dr. Strait -- that's who I want for my doctor. I can just hear myself saying, "I hurt right here, doc. Touch this spot. Move your hand. Rub that place! It really hurts!"

News and More News

I don't know and don't care if it was country fans or rock 'n' roll fans -- or if they're from red states or blue states or Democrats or Republicans -- but I do know that SoundScan numbers do not lie. SoundScan reports the Dixie Chicks sold 526,000 copies of their new CD, Taking the Long Way, during its first week of release. Of interest to me, the girls told TV talk show host Larry King that, if invited, they would perform for the troops in Iraq.

Martina McBride was on hand at Katie Couric's personal request when NBC said goodbye to the longtime Today co-anchor. Martina, who sang "This One's For the Girls" during the telecast, and Couric became friends after meeting in 2003 at a Redbook magazine event honoring mothers who have mentored and inspired other women. Couric also invited Idina Menzel to perform "For Good" from the musical, Wicked. Menzel and Trisha Yearwood were set to perform the "For Good" in New York last fall at the "Broadway Meets Country" concert during CMA Week, but Menzel had to cancel due to illness. So she invited Yearwood to perform the song as a surprise during Katie's farewell. Katie will become the anchor for the CBS Evening News.

In time for Father's Day, Emerson Drive's "A Good Man" is looking good for the Canadian group on Midas Records.

Eye saw Narvel Blackstock, Reba McEntire's manager/hubby, at the Palm restaurant in Nashville. He says Reba's shows at the Las Vegas Hilton, where she's filling in for vacationing Barry Manilow, are going just fine.

Fans, it looks like this week's CMA Music Festival is gonna be busy, busy. ABC's Good Morning America will be here Thursday (June 8) with Sara Evans, Billy Currington and Josh Turner on the outside patio of Rippy's Bar & Grill on lower Broadway. The festival will be filmed for a two-hour ABC special set to air July 24.

Other festival highlights will include Family Zone located at the Hall of Fame Park across from the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum at the corner of Demonbreun and 5th Avenue South. The area will feature games, face painting, arts and crafts, food samplings, giveaways and even cooking demonstrations. Various musical acts will perform there, too. As in years past, Martina McBride's annual celebrity auction that benefits the YWCA will take place there Saturday (June 10).

Members of Buck Owens' band, the Buckaroos, and Buck's son, Buddy Alan Owens, joined Dwight Yoakam and Aaron Tippin to set the stage with music at a party to unveil the new Hee Haw slot machines in Las Vegas on the eve of the ACM Awards.

Photos of Toby Keith performing for the troops in Iraq looked like a football field filled with fans enjoying his music. Sending prayers for his safety and the safety of all those who wear a uniform.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Brunswick Stew.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Brunswick Stew.

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