November 30, 2015 — When legendary singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia in the summer of 1997 to witness first-hand the devastation wrought by landmines, she was stunned.
“Landmines are just litter we leave behind after the wars are over… We need to clean up after ourselves — like good neighbors — for the sake of the innocent victims whose lives are destroyed because of this weapon,” she said.
An avid reader of history and the daughter of a U.S. Marine, Ms. Harris was struck by the changing nature of combat and the indiscriminate warfare disproportionately inflicting casualties on innocent civilians. When she became involved in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Ms. Harris drew upon the power of celebrity to bring high-profile musicians and actors to the campaign. She advocated to members of Congress, wrote op/eds.
Importantly, Ms. Harris drew fellow musicians to the cause and launched a series of high profile concerts; touring the U.S., Canada, Asia and Europe the events raise both awareness and funds for the cause.
Ms. Harris’ contribution to the landmine cause was weighty; it made a difference in the degree to which the campaign garnered public attention. And when, in December 1997, the campaign to ban landmines received the Nobel Peace Prize, Harris was invited to perform at the award ceremony in Oslo.
For more than forty years, Emmylou Harris has been a gifted interpreter of Americana music and elegant writer of her own. With a catalogue that showcases a unique ability to identify and elevate undiscovered talent, she has also has forged artistic collaborations with rock, pop and country legends, earning her thirteen Grammy Awards and scores of musical accolades as a genre transforming artist.
Harris has also used her artistry to pen songs that speak to the issues of our day, including “Lost Unto this World,” from her 2003 album, Stumble into Grace, inspired by the Lost Boys of Sudan. “I was fascinated by the travails of the Lost Boys, but I thought ‘what about the Lost Girls?’ and why aren’t we shining a spotlight on them?”
“I think you get to a certain point in your life where you do gaze back over the years and it’s sort of a celebration or a thank-you for the fact that you cross paths with people who change you forever,” she says. “I’ve been inordinately blessed to stumble over so many remarkable people, doing extraordinary work in service of humanity.”
On December 1, Ms. Harris will bestow the first Jesuit Refugee Service Award for Accompaniment to Sister Denise Coghlan, RSM, for her work with the displaced in Cambodia for the past 25 years at the JRS 35th Anniversary Commemoration in New York.
In the fall of 2016, Ms. Harris plans to spearhead a series of concerts with other leading artists to support the work of JRS and its Global Education Initiative. Speaking about her engagement with JRS she said, “The better angels of our nature call upon us to act with compassion and not with fear in the face of so much suffering.”