November 25, 2013 at 2:14 pm EST | by Jim Slattery
Emmylou Harris on her LGBT support, love of animals
Emmylou Harris, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Emmylou Harris came to prominence in the Washington, D.C. music scene. (Photo by Jack Spencer)

Emmylou Harris

Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m.

The Hamilton, 600 14th St., N.W.

Tickets $94 and $104


Those that assume country, bluegrass and Americana artists aren’t supportive of LGBT rights may not realize that many routinely work to further the cause.

Consider 12-time Grammy Award-winning artist Emmylou Harris, who came to prominence in the Washington, D.C. music scene, and will soon perform here. Harris has performed and donated auction items to the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Dinners in Nashville and has otherwise lent her voice to furthering LGBT rights.

“You know, Nashville still has a ways to go there, but we’re on the move,” the legendary artist said in an interview with the Blade. Harris lives in Nashville in Davidson County and says that, “Davidson is a little blue county in a sea of red in the State of Tennessee.”

Harris lent her name to hasten that move just this past May when she joined fellow musicians Big & Rich’s William “Big Kenny” Alphin, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rodney Crowell in co-signing an open letter in support of the now successful marriage equality push in Illinois.

“Traditionally speaking, country music, arguably more than any other genre, draws its inspiration from that inexplicable conundrum known as the human condition,” the letter reads. “Songs and stories of love, family, joy, and human imperfection are the root of its appeal. To deny our gay brothers and sisters the right to legally ritualize their love – to marry – is to deny that they too experience the complexity of human emotion that make a song like Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ the shared phenomenon that it is.”

Harris doesn’t recall a particular turning point that heightened her awareness of LGBT issues when she lived in the D.C. area but was caught up in the urgency of it in recent years.

“I was totally not aware of that at all,” she says of the discrimination faced by the LGBT community, especially in the 1970s when she lived in the D.C. area. “Really it just sort of came to me later in life, the urgency of the situation. You broaden your horizons as you meet people and more people come into your fold as friends. I just believe in equal rights for everyone.  Everyone has the right to happiness — to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And, you know, it shouldn’t be different for anyone.”

She was quick to add that she would welcome the opportunity to perform at Capital Pride and other LGBT events. For now, fans can support Harris by attending her upcoming show to benefit Bonaparte’s Retreat, which she operates from her Nashville home. Named after her beloved dog Bonaparte who died nearly 10 years ago, Harris takes in dogs whose time has run out at Nashville’s Metro Animal Control and houses them in a bunk house in the corner of her small backyard. She relies on support from the greater Nashville community, which pitches in to foster the dogs. “We keep them, socialize them and love them until we find homes for them,” Harris said.

Key to the success of the retreat are the many fundraising efforts Harris undertakes around the country on top of her regular – and busy – touring schedule. The show next week is another homecoming for Harris who fondly recalls her years in D.C. and often returns. “I was kind of a staple there at Clyde’s and my mother and I used to shop there at Garfinckles,” she says of the famed department store that was at the site currently occupied by the Hamilton. Harris says she hopes the Hamilton benefit becomes an annual tradition.

She also fondly recalls performing at the now defunct Childe Harold bar and restaurant in Dupont Circle, which saw early performances by Bruce Springsteen, The Ramones, Al Jarreau and Bonnie Raitt. Harris laughed when told her name was used for a sandwich at the Childe Harold. “Right, well, you know, you get publicity any way you can, a sandwich, or whatever,” she said.

Now, of course, Harris receives publicity everywhere she goes, and everywhere almost always includes her dogs. During her March show in the D.C. area with Rodney Crowell in support of their album “Old Yellow Moon,” she welcomed a special canine guest appearance by her yellow rescue dog Keeta. “I love it when I can travel with the dogs,” she says. “They make life so much richer, especially when you’re on the road and away from home.” She recalls that Bonaparte was an incredible travel dog and went everywhere with her. Her one regret during her many years on the road was that she spent many of those years without a dog. When Bonaparte died and Harris eventually adopted Keeta and then Bella, “the big black dog that came into my life, they were just great!”

Fans know that Harris wrote the song “Big Black Dog” based on her experience meeting and then rescuing Bella from the pound. Listen for her to likely include that song in her upcoming concert. Although her show will take place after Thanksgiving, she says her heart is always full of thanks for the joys she has found in life. “As far as music, I think I’ve been able to do whatever I want. I’ve been able to play with extraordinary musicians, all of whom have remained friends,” she says. “You don’t work alone; it’s all sort of a group effort, whether in the studio or on the road. I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many wonderful musicians on my own records and then with so many of my heroes like Neil Young, Mark Knopfler and, of course, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. It’s been like being at Disneyland, my whole career, you know, it never gets boring.”

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