The Great Collaborator
Multi-Grammy award winner and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Emmylou Harris has worked with musicians including Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton and Neil Young. Whether she’s interpreting a song or writing her own, this legendary artist has a way of transcending all categories of music. Her passion for her work has carried her successfully through the years, but she’s quick to recognize the need to use her celebrity to bring awareness to those less fortunate.
Risen Magazine: You’ve won 13 Grammy awards, when you really let that sink in, what does it mean to you to know the impact your music has had and the millions of people that love and appreciate your work?
Emmylou Harris: I just feel lucky…to have work that I love. To be able to make a living doing something that you love, and after all these years I still love it. I’m still inspired by it, the inspiration, who knows where it comes from – but it still comes. Those of us who make our money making music, we feel so blessed and so lucky, sometimes it seems unfair and [that is why] the opportunity to give back actually means a great deal to me. I know my other friends do the same thing – lend their names, and their talent, and their time. We need to do that because we’ve been so lucky to have this gift that was recognized enough to where we can actually make a living at it. It doesn’t happen for everybody. There are a lot of talented people that it just doesn’t happen for – and with me a lot of it was just dumb luck.
RM: You’ve been so successful whether it is country or pop, folk, and alternative -does the word genre even mean anything to you?
EH: No. I basically just do music that comes out of me from the musicians I’m surrounded by and the music I listen to. I think it’s all becoming one big pool, which isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s original and it touches people. If it touches people, then it has credibility.
RM: Some of your more recent music has themes of perseverance and faith. When it comes to selecting songs or writing your own, where do they come from?
EH: God only knows! I was fortunate enough to find a lot of songs early on because I didn’t put a lot of energy into writing. Just recently in the last 15 years, I’ve put more emphasis on writing, but I still like to cover songs. I love finding a song that maybe nobody’s heard of, or maybe it’s a little obscure, or it’s just a favorite song. Like on my last record I covered a Merle Haggard song that I’ve loved for years called, Kern River. I did a Tracy Chapman song that I’ve always loved that was kind of like a forgotten song on her second record, it wasn’t one that she was really known for. So I love doing that, but I’ve just finished a new record and it will come out in the spring  and I wrote most of the songs on that. It takes a mighty effort on my part to actually write – I have to really let everything else go.
RM: One thing I love about your work is that you’re so collaborative. When you first started you were collaborative with so many amazing artists and now moving forward at the success level that you’re at, there’s not really a need for you to be collaborative, but yet you still are. Is that a conscious decision?
EH: It just happens. I think the point where I really became an “artist” and found my own voice was working with Gram Parsons so that was a collaboration that started me as a harmony singer. I developed this love for harmony, and then my harmony partner was no longer there. So I just had to take that road on my own, but then I met up with Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, and of course Dolly [Parton] and Linda [Ronstadt] and all the different people that I’ve been able to sing with over the years. I think most singers love to harmonize. For a while you weren’t supposed to sing with people on other labels, but now everybody is singing with everybody. And everybody wins in that situation. People like sitting in and collaborating, it’s more fun. You can make music by yourself, but it’s certainly so much more fun to make music with other people.
RM: You are so talented when it comes to interpreting songs; when you hear a song do you immediately know you want to make it your own?
EH: No, I don’t know how, but I know I want it and so I just set about trying to find a way to make it work.
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