The story behind that iconic Emmylou Harris photograph

Posted on January 08, 2020

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Photo of Emmylou Harris in The Tempest

If you’ve seen one photo of Emmylou Harris during her UNC Greensboro days, this is the one.

It’s from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the first and only Shakespeare production for the aspiring actress from Birmingham, Alabama. She was a freshman attending UNCG on a drama scholarship.

The actress on the right was Sandra Hopper, now Dr. Sandra Hopper Forman ’66, ’71 MFA, a senior and the first Raymond Taylor scholar. She became a member of the first UNCG MFA class in theater in 1967. 

“She was Miranda, and I was Ariel,” said Forman in an interview this week.

They were the only women in the cast with speaking roles; all the others were male faculty from around campus, as Forman recalls, with Dr. Arthur Dixon, an English Department faculty member, portraying Prospero. Woman’s College had just become the co-ed UNCG, with very few males enrolled so far. The two women naturally hung out a bit during the rehearsals.  

And speaking of “hanging out,” Dr. Herman Middleton, a theater professor and department head, gave the freshman some advice that, even if she didn’t heed it, Forman remembers well. Middleton stopped her in the UNCG Auditorium lobby, and said:

“Emmylou, you’re never going to amount to anything if you don’t stop hanging out at that coffeehouse.” 

That coffeehouse was down at the part of Tate Street known as “the corner,” Forman explains. It was well known that Harris liked to play her guitar and sing. “She liked to hang out there a lot.”

She doesn’t recall Harris singing in the Shakespeare production, but as Ariel – “I was a sprite” – Forman danced and bounded across the stage and sang several melodies. 

Harris was an impressive freshman actress. “She was charming and pretty,” Forman recalls.

Before Taylor Theatre was built later that decade, the productions were in UNCG Auditorium (then called Aycock Auditorium). “We packed it. We used to fill the house. There were no microphones. The voice work was very critical.” They projected their voices to the top of the balcony, she says.

Forman joined the faculty and taught at UNCG till 1990, then was founding director of the Northern Kentucky University’s theater department. She recently retired as professor emerita. (See article.) Four or five years ago, when she lived near Cincinnati, she attended her first Emmylou Harris concert. It was the first time she’d seen her in person since the days onstage at UNCG Auditorium. “I went backstage after the concert. We had a big reunion, because we hadn’t seen each other in a million years.”

She has her tickets for the sold-out Emmylou Harris show Jan. 24 in UNCG Auditorium. “She is good.”

And has great memories in that grand old auditorium. “It was very exciting. My costume was gold sequins,” Forman recalls. “It was a wonderful set, great reviews, all that good stuff.”

By Mike Harris
Photograph courtesy UNCG’s Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives


The Carolinian interviewed Emmylou Harris for the Dec. 10, 1965, article “‘Tempest’ Introduces
New Theatre Talent.” Some excerpts, lightly edited:

  • She began her acting career at the age of five when she starred in a kindergarten production of “Mother Goose” which she jokingly refers to as her “greatest leading role.” Although she has never had any formal dramatic training, Emmylou furthered her interest in drama while in high school by joining the dramatics club and by performing in numerous high school productions. 
  • Her experience has not been limited only to portrayal of such innocents as Miranda, her performances having ranged from a “sweet, young thing” in “The Tender Trap” to a barmaid in “The Drunkard.” 
  • One gathers from talking to Emmylou that her greatest thrill so far at UNCG was meeting and talking to the performers of NRT (National Repertory Theater). Although spectators are not allowed at NRT rehearsals, Emmylou managed to obtain permission to sit in by offering to carry coffee to the performers. 
  • She likes most everything about life at UNCG. but she does have a great dislike for required courses. She feels that students work only for credit in such courses and that they are essentially a waste of time. 
  • Emmylou, an accomplished vocalist and guitar player, has sung professionally on several occasions in Washington, D.C., and in Birmingham. Emmylou calls Birmingham home, but her parents are presently living in Japan where her father is stationed in the Marines. 
  • Like many people, Emmylou says she has always had a tendency to be afraid of Shakespeare, and that it was for this reason that she especially wanted a part in the play. She describes ‘The Tempest” as a “real play about real people”… Emmylou expressed hope that the article would be more of a plug for the play than an article about her, because she sincerely believes that the play has something to offer to each person who sees it. Emmylou Harris definitely has something to offer in her portrayal.


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