Good friend and former NPR anchor Paul Brown is back in Winston-Salem producing
Emmlyou Harris and me in Rome, Italy, June 2016
Acrossthe Blue Ridge, a weekly music program of traditional mountain music. Paul and I worked together years ago when he was the news director at WFDD. When I told him last spring about my opportunity to meet Emmylou Harris and report on her desire to raise money for the Jesuit Refugee Service through a U.S. acoustic concert tour, he advised: “Get some sound. Let’s do a story for Across the Blue Ridge.” I did. Paul produced a beautiful 20-minute segment of three Emmylou classics with an interview with me about her after the first song, Orphan Girl.
Emmylou Harris listens as JRS official Jill Drzewiecki explains the plight of EU refugees. Photo by Justin Catanoso
My dear friend and editor Lisa Chase, a senior editor and writer at Elle, the glossy women’s fashion magazine out of New York City, opened the door for me for one last Emmylou Harris story. This one is very different, mostly a Q&A of a more personal nature for Elle.com. The link is here.
Excerpt: As we walk the Roman streets that tourists avoid, Emmylou shares with me her motivation to get involved, the wellspring of her humanitarianism, and her everlasting belief in the power of music to change the world.
Emmylou Harris, humanitarian. Photo by Jacquelyn Pavilon, courtesy JRS.
Glenn Scherer, my superlative editor at Mongabay.com, never wavered when I told him I could get him a story from my interview in Rome with Emmylou Harris that would work on the site. After all, the Americana music icon was in Rome to learn about the European refugee crisis and what she could do to help. Because it’s becoming increasingly clear that mass migration in Africa and the Middle East is being driven to some degree by drought, severe weather, and sea-level rise — all under the umbrella of climate change — Emmylou just needed to say a bit about the connection and I’d have my story. She did. Here’s the link.
Emmylou Harris, wringing her fingers as she learns more and more abou thte EU refugee ciris. Photo by Justin Catnoso
This is a little outside my specialty of climate change, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend time with and interview Emmylou Harris, one of the greatest voices in American music. She’s also a great humanitarian, as my story tries to explain. Here’s the link.
I met her in Rome, Italy, on June 3 thanks for the herculean efforts of my good friend Jill Drzewiecki with the Jesuit Refugee Service. She organized the three-day visit, which included a private concert for about 60 invited guests at the residence of David Lane, US ambassador to UN Agencies.
Emmylou trying to take in all the information being tossed her way by members of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Photo by Justin Catanoso
My good friend with JRS, Jill Drzewiecki, telling Emmylou about the discrimination encountered daily by refugees in Italy. Photo by Justin Catanoso
Emmylou Harris performing at at private concert on June 3 at the residence of David Lane, US ambassador to UN Agencies. Photo by Justin Catanoso
Technically, this Q&A for the famous fashion magazine (website) Elle.com is not a travel story. But my subject and I certainly had to travel a long way to meet up and talk in Rome, Italy.
Emmylou Harris, the iconic queen of country music, had traveled from her home in Nashville to see how she could do her part to alleviate the worst humanitarian crisis in decades; I had traveled from my home in Greensboro, N.C., to lead a summer session in foreign affairs reporting for a dozen amazing aspiring journalists, all women, from Wake ForestUniversity.
It all came about because my good friend in Rome, Jill Drzewiecki with the Jesuit Refugee Service, had organized Emmylou’s visit as a potential fundraiser to help the wave after wave of immigrants flooding Europe in the summer of 2016, especially Italy. Jill asked if I would interview Emmylou and write a story. Yes, please, was my immediate response. Another friend at Elle, features editor Laura Abraham, opened the door to this story. I wrote two others, including one for Mongabay!
“I’m just a tiny part, a tiny drop,” she told me of her fundraising through music idea that was just forming. “But who knows what we can accomplish. I mean, how can you see so much pain and suffering and think that it’s normal? It’s not normal. But you have to have hope. You have to believe. You have to feel like you can make a difference.”
Emmylou and I talked for about an hour on the streets of Rome as the group she was with was touring a part of the city frequented by immigrants and never tourists. She was warm, candid and easy to talk with. That evening, I was invited to a rooftop concert by Emmylou at the home of the U.S. Ambassador for the UN Agencies. Me, a few other friends and about 50 priests. What a night. What a fabulous human being.