One listen to Emmylou Harris' obscure 1969 solo debut album, Gliding Bird, and you'll hear the obvious influence of folk singer Joan Baez on the future Country Music Hall of Fame member. It's fitting then that Harris was on hand to perform a tribute to Baez as the performer-songwriter-activist was honored with an ASCAP Centennial Award Monday night (November 17th) in New York.
Noting that Baez was the reason she picked up a guitar as a 16-year-old, Harris, who has also supported numerous causes throughout her career, said, "I worshiped her. Still do in a way, because she just changed my whole focus on music. And I just admire her also as a person, how she's put herself out there in the fight for human rights all around the world, even when it wasn't being covered by the press."
In tribute to Baez, who performed Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" during the ceremony, Harris delivered a sweet version of Baez's 1975 hit "Diamonds and Rust."
Noting the influence that Baez's 1960 self-titled debut had on her, Harris said of the album, "Mostly they were old country songs, old English ballads. But then she got into talking about the civil rights movement, doing the songs of Dylan, who I was a huge fan of, too. You realize that music was not just singing about your heartbreak, but it was about changing people's hearts and minds. It really is an incredible tool in changing the world, and I think she's been an amazing example."
Harris also explained that she learned all of the songs on that Baez album as well as others, singling out "Birmingham Sunday" from Baez's 1964 album Joan Baez/5.
"I'm from Birmingham, actually," Harris told Rolling Stone. "It's a devastating song, she really told stories that we needed to hear."
Harris also addressed her long-awaited autobiography, saying, "No, I haven't started that. People are telling me that I'm doing that. It's a work-in-progress." She reportedly inked a deal with Blue Rider Press earlier this year for the memoir, which has a tentative Fall 2015 due date.
The 67-year-old was equally tight-lipped about her next album with longtime friend and former Hot Band member Rodney Crowell. "It's just me and Rodney singing," she said of the follow-up to the pair's Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon, released in 2013. "I don't know how different that will be. We're actually working with Joe Henry to produce. We wanted to change things up just a little bit, but basically it's just two friends singing together."
No release date has been announced for the new album. In addition to Joan Baez, Garth Brooks, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder were also honored at the ASCAP Centennial Awards, with performances from Sting, Trisha Yearwood, India Arie and Bernadette Peters. Prior to the ceremony, a benefit dinner helped raise funds for the ASCAP Foundation, which provides scholarship and educational opportunities for young musicians.
(Reporting by Kory Grow)