Archive Fun: Emmylou Harris

February 26, 2013

Emmylou Harris

Born in Alabama and raised in North Carolina and Virginia, Emmylou Harris began playing the guitar at 16. A few years later, she recorded her first album, Gliding Bird. In the early 1970s, she moved to Los Angeles and teamed up with Gram Parsons, with whom she made two recordings. After Parsons' death in 1973, Harris made her major-label debut with Pieces of the Sky. Now, with dozens of albums and countless awards, including 12 Grammys, she maintains a widespread and loyal following.

Emmylou first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1985 and has been a fan favorite ever since. In 1987, A Prairie Home Companion broadcast 18 shows leading into the final broadcast on The Disney Channel. These shows remain the video diary of the early years of A Prairie Home Companion and a few of the favorite musical performances, sketches and monologues were gathered together in A Prairie Home Collection, which includes Emmylou's performance of "The Sweetest Gift - A Mother's Smile" with Kate MacKenzie, Garrison Keillor and a very young Vince Gill. The rights prevent us from posting the video footage of this incredible performance but Emmylou was game enough to appear in a Guy Noir episode years later, which you can watch below:

"Abraham, Martin and John"
Listen to "Abraham, Martin and John" »

In 2005, the Prairie Home Companion staff asked listeners what their favorite broadcasts were and the memories that went along with them. Arthur Alarain from New Orleans stated that while he was recovering from a car accident for 6 months, the only thing he could recall during that period was this Emmylou Harris performance of "Abraham, Martin and John." The song was written in 1968 by Dick Holler as a tribute to the memory of 4 assassinated Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy and originally recorded by Dion.

"Boy from Tupelo"
Listen to "Boy from Tupelo" »

Emmylou visited the show in 2000 and shared songs from her Red Dirt Girl ablum. Emmylou has always been better known as a performer than as a songwriter but on this album, she wowed fans and critics alike with a set of 12 hauntingly beautiful songs, most all of them original compositions including this song about Elvis Presley called "Boy From Tupelo."

"If I Could Only Win Your Love"
Listen to "If I Could Only Win Your Love" »

Charlie Louvin and his brother Ira are known to the world as The Louvin Brothers who Garrison has stated "made the most gorgeous duet recordings and still all these years later, you listen to the Louvin Brothers and admire them; absolute perfection!" "If I Could Only Win Your Love" was included on Emmylou Harris' major label debut album Pieces of the Sky and was her first hit song, peaking at number 4 on the Billboard Country chart. This version was performed with Jon Randall during our New Year's Eve broadcast in 2006.

The Big Blizzard

Emmylou Harris performed on one of the most memorable shows for the production crew. In 1993, A Prairie Home Companion was broadcast live from Birmingham, AL just as a blizzard hit the region. Thirteen inches of snow fell and the town was paralyzed. The crew had to shovel out the satellite dish so that program could be broadcast. About an hour before the show, Emmylou phoned from her bus on the road and they were 55 miles out of town at a dead standstill. At 5pm, A Prairie Home Companion began its broadcast with no musical guests. Emmylou came through the stage door at about 5:20pm and went right on stage to perform a duet with Garrison sans soundcheck or rehearsal. The night's other guest group arrived just in time to join in on the finale. This predates the online archive so we do not have any audio to share but it certainly makes for a great story and lets you know what a fearless and dedicated performer Emmylou Harris is. Russ Ringsak wrote a great recollection of the events of the storm in an article called "Buried in Alabama."

"Darlin' Kate"

When Emmylou Harris was a kid, she wrote a letter to Pete Seeger, concerned that if she was living a sheltered life at her parents' house and hadn't suffered enough, she couldn't be a folksinger. Pete wrote back, saying: "Don't worry. Life will catch up with you. You'll suffer. Don't go hop a freight." "Darlin' Kate" is from her album Hard Bargain, performed on the show in the spring of 2011. Emmylou wrote the song as a farewell letter to her friend, singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle.

"As Long As We Live"

Andra Suchy recalls that during her first appearance on the show, she remembers walking through the stage door for rehearsal to find Garrison on stage going over songs with Emmylou. "My mind couldn't believe my eyes ... couldn't process the information. Then Garrison saw me and brought me over to meet her and to sing with her. She gave me a kiss on the cheek. That was beyond my comprehension factor at that moment, but some survival or emergency-light instinct took over, and I just opened my mouth and sang. It was incredible, and I will never forget it." Here is the show closer, "As Long As We Live" from that show with new words by Garrison, featuring himself along with Emmylou, Andra and The Guy's All Star Shoe Band.

On this weekend's broadcast, you'll hear a few tracks from Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's new album Old Yellow Moon—their first official collaboration since Crowell joined Harris' Hot Band in 1975. The 12-track duets collection features songs written by Crowell as well as interpretations of songs by Hank DeVito, Roger Miller, Allen Reynolds, and others. Among the world-renowned musicians on the album are Stuart Duncan, Vince Gill, Bill Payne, and members of the original Hot Band.

If you recall a favorite guest performance, song, guest or sketch, visit our online archive to relive the memories. Start your tour by selecting the month and year of the show you wish to hear—you'll see a brief description of who was on each show during that month. Find the correct date, follow the "listen" link, and enjoy!

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

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