Saliers 85C wrote the song History of
Us soon after graduating from Emory, the same summer she
toured Europe in a Volkswagen bus with her father, theology
professor Don Saliers, and mother and three sisters. Now, when
she looks back on her time at the College more than fifteen
years later, Saliers still lights up with pride and genuine
can tell you I loved my years there, Saliers says. They
were very fruitful in terms of my friendships, and what I learned,
and me and Amy exploring our music. It was like a springboard
for the rest of my life.
one half of the internationally acclaimed folk-pop duo the Indigo
Girls, the openly gay Saliers is one of Emorys most celebrated
graduates. Shes known for her lyrical, guitar-spun ballads
that resonate powerfully with a diverse, devoted fan base. After
seventeen years and eight full-length albums (the most successful
won a Grammy and went double-platinum), Saliers and her musical
partner, Amy Ray 86C, continue to play sold-out shows
around the world.
easy to forget the pair put out their first single on the Emory
campus, selling it at a table in front of the DUC for $1.
making music, Saliers favorite memories of college are
of intimate, impassioned talks with her circle of close friends,
who helped shape her early activist leanings. Her classes, she
says, helped her learn to question, to challenge, and to think
independently; her English courses, with their focus on language
and expression, also shaped her songwriting. She and Ray embraced
the Universitys emphasis on public service and furthering
a community good.
the Indigo Girls progressive social activism is as much
a part of their public persona as their guitars and boots. Their
efforts on behalf of Native Americans, women, and the environment
are well documented. They are also strong advocates of gay rights.
know we are perceived as this radical activist lesbian band,
and that becomes a problem in an industry run by men,
Saliers says. A lot of women sell records through their
straight sexuality. On the other hand, we have this great career,
we have all this control, where we are able to speak our minds
and enjoy the freedom of that.
Emory, Emily was not yet out as a lesbian. I just didnt
have the self-awareness when I was a student there to get to
the point of coming out, she says. I dated guys,
but I was sort of exploring the beginnings of my gay life. When
I look back, I wish I had had more courage, and I admire people
whose vision was so clear. But when my moment came, it was so
clear and right, and okay with me and God and my family and
anyone who mattered to me.
is particularly proud of the strides Emory has made toward equality
and acceptance for gay community members. When the Indigo Girls
appeared on campus for a performance and talk during the Universitys
Year of Reconciliation, she was impressed by how far students
have come since she graduated. Many of their questions focused
matter-of-factly on the singers sexual orientation.
whole tenor of the evening certainly felt very open-minded,
she says. When I was in school, kids didnt feel
comfortable raising questions of sexuality like they do now.
I consider that progress. And for Emory to open up and give
that opportunity to us was something I really appreciated.
connection to Emory runs deep. Her father is the director of
Emorys Master of Sacred Music program and the William
R. Cannon Professor of Theology and Worship in the Candler School
of Theology. A noted scholar and author of more than a dozen
books on Christian theology, Don is also, like his daughter,
a musician at heartand soul. He has served as musical
director of the ecumenical University Worship for some twenty
years, and he composes and performs sacred music that lends
itself expressly to spiritual experience.
says she grew up in an intellectual community of lefties
where music and learning were as essential air and water. Don
says the first song Emily and her sisters ever wrote was a protest
song about pollution. He remembers when the entire Saliers clan
would harmonize together for hundreds of miles on long family
car trips. At a recent photo shoot in the Universitys
Performing Arts Studio, he and his second-oldest daughter couldnt
resist noodling around together on the piano and guitar that
were supposed to serve as props.
stylistic differences, the two seem to approach their music
in much the same waystriving not only for artistic excellence,
but for meaning and message that reach soul-deep. This shared
pursuit has led them to plan a collaborative project, a book
they will write together about music, sacred and secular, and
the experience of making it.
think there is much we will agree on, Don says. Both
of us want our music to touch the human heart in a way that
is deep and meaningful, to offer images to live by and live
toeven if they are painful. We want music to be honest,
truthful. Of course, as a composer of sacred music, I would
add that I want it to awaken awe, and wonder, to speak of transcendence.
you know, he adds, there is a kind of liturgy that
goes on in the Indigo Girls concerts too. People take
the words and music into their hearts, into their bodies. They
can get seven thousand people to sing, or bring them total silenceI
think that really says something. There is a wonderful dialogue
that happens when they are at full stretch.
and Emily already have begun work on their book by taping hours
of conversations with one another, which is how they plan to
develop most of the material. To a father and daughter with
rich careers and rigorous schedules, setting aside time for
heart-to-heart talksand calling it workis a rare
have spent a lot of time talking about our own personal experience,
and how it affects our relationship as father and daughter,
Emily says. I cant even tell you how it feels to
be able to have time like that with my father. I feel so blessed
that he is part of this academic community, and its a
part of my life, too.P.P.P.