Barbara Baker's freshman musical memories with Emmylou Harris

Posted on January 13, 2020

Barbara Baker at piano

Emmylou Harris’ time at UNCG is the stuff of legend. 

She arrived in 1965 on a drama scholarship. She was in two memorable productions, and she played folk music in her spare time – on Tate Street, in her residence hall, and in what is now the EUC. And she left before completing her degree program, soon becoming a rising music star. She dueted with Gram Parsons. She formed her Hot Band – rescuing country music from the clutches of pop and schlock. She recorded the live album “At the Ryman,” spurring the “mother church” of country music to be saved from the wrecking ball. Her legend grew, and it still grows. A legend that began at UNCG.

Dr. Barbara Wesley Baker ‘69 (visual, left) arrived the same year, and shares her memory: 

“David Giddens, Diana Barefoot, Emmylou, and I sang folk music in a basement room in the old Elliott Hall – now enlarged and known as the EUC – during our freshman year.”

That was 1965-66. Her memory is that David Giddens was the driving force at that time among the four; he played on campus a lot, she says, and he and Harris knew each other before Giddens invited Baker into that foursome of music-lovers. The four would play and sing on weekend nights, to the room which could hold maybe 50 people at small tables, as she recalls. Sometimes the audience would join the singing, which varied between solos, duets, or all four singing. No microphones, just a piano (which Baker would occasionally play). The other three played guitar.

Some alumni CW talked with believe it was called simply “the music room” at that time. Baker recalls, “It was a coffee house atmosphere and I think we called it Four Faces Coffee House because of a painting of four faces in the room.” It was contemporary art – four faces you wouldn’t recognize, she says.

That name was sort of an inside joke. “I hope my remembrances are still accurate, since it’s been 53 years since we sang there.”

What about Emmylou Harris? “I remember Emmylou as sounding like Joan Baez! She would play her guitar and mesmerize the audience. Then she would sing a song so plaintive, mournful, or soulful that you couldn’t take your eyes off her.” Harris could sing in such a “rueful” way, Baker recalls. “She was a stunning singer. And that girl could play!”

Odetta. Peter, Paul and Mary. Joan Baez. Bob Dylan. Songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” Those are the types of songs you’d hear if you stepped into the room during those evenings.

“I was new to singing folk music,” she said, “so I took a back seat to David, Emmylou, and Diana. It was a magical time of protest songs, folk songs, and whatever we wanted to sing.”

As a freshman, Baker was asked to open up for a traveling act, at a club in East Greensboro. She only did it once, she said. She accompanied herself on piano. Then the star attractions hit the stage: the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. 

Yep, she opened for superstars Ike and Tina Turner and sang with Emmylou Harris in the same year. 

And, inspired by UNCG professor Richard Cox to become a choir director, the music major went on to earn her master’s at Columbia and doctorate at Maryland, teach music, conduct internationally, and lecture widely – black gospel music is her focus. She is renowned. 

And she carries lots of great music memories, including those evenings with her friends in Elliott Hall. 

Baker adds about the four, “David Giddens probably knew her the best.”

CW reached out to Giddens for his memories of playing at UNCG in that era. We’ll share some of those – and more – next week.

Note: The Jan. 24 Emmylou Harris concert is sold-out. But the community is welcome to attend the “Masterclass and Q&A with Emmylou Harris,” geared for UNCG students. Seating is limited. The free, general admission event starts at 3 p.m. in UNCG Auditorium.

By Mike Harris
1960s photograph courtesy Barbara Wesley Baker


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