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Amy Ray

Singer, songwriter, and activist Amy Ray broke through to mainstream success in the late 1980s as one-half of the acclaimed folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, whose self-titled sophomore album earned them a Grammy Award in 1990. With their defiant messages of LGBTQ rights, environmentalism, and feminism, and their willingness to take on a variety of other challenging social and political issues, Ray and her musical partner, Emily Saliers, became one of the most enduring female acts of the '90s, weaving activism with art and building a large and deeply devoted fan base that continued to support them in the following decades. Often representing the darker-toned side of the Indigo Girls' output, Ray launched a solo career in 2001 with the gritty Southern punk of Stag, introducing a more rock-edged sound that channeled the Replacements and Patti Smith. Alternating between Indigo Girls releases, managing her own Daemon Records label, and supporting a variety of causes including gun control, women's rights, and indigenous struggles, Ray continued to explore her myriad influences on standout albums like 2005's fuzzy indie rock outing, Prom, and later pairing the country heritage of her native Georgia with her own leftist political bent on Americana-flavored records like 2014's Goodnight Tender and 2018's Holler. Ray entered the next decade with the heartfelt 2021 single "Muscadine." A native of Decatur, Georgia, Ray's musical pursuits date back to her high school days when she and Saliers first began playing together as the B-Band. Following a year at Nashville's Vanderbilt University, Ray headed back to Georgia to attend Emory University in Atlanta, where Saliers had also ended up. The two songwriters resumed their partnership in earnest in 1985, adopting the Indigo Girls name and releasing their eponymous first EP later that year. Following 1987's independently released Strange Fire LP, Epic Records took a chance and signed them, resulting in the duo's self-titled 1989 label debut and effectively launching their careers. The album generated plenty of critical acclaim, a bona fide hit in the single "Closer to Fine," and a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording. Over the next ten years, Indigo Girls would establish themselves as mainstream alt-folk stars, releasing career highlights like 1994's Swamp Ophelia and 1997's Shaming of the Sun and appearing as a main-stage act at Lilith Fair and other major festivals. Having founded her own not-for-profit indie label, Daemon Records, in 1990, Ray used the imprint to release her solo debut in 2001. A stripped-down affair that drew heavily on her punk influences, Stag featured collaborations with rock icon Joan Jett and North Carolina queercore trio the Butchies, who would also serve as her backup band and collaborators at different intervals in her career. Throughout the 2000s, Ray maintained tandem careers, recording four more Indigo Girls albums for Epic, Hollywood, and Vanguard Records, while chasing down different avenues with her edgier solo albums on Daemon. 2005's highly regarded Prom explored themes of gender, sexuality, rebellion, and her experiences as a gay woman living in the rural South. 2008's Didn't It Feel Kinder offered a more musically experimental feel and was her first solo effort to utilize an outside producer in Greg Griffith (the Butchies, Le Tigre). After a 2010 concert album, MVP Live (her second live outing), Ray resumed work with Saliers, recording Indigo Girls' 13th album, Beauty Queen Sister, in 2011. Reuniting with producer Griffith, Ray recorded 2012's Lung of Love, a wide-ranging album with pop elements and a number of new collaborators in Brandi Carlile, Lindsay Fuller, and My Morning Jacket's Jim James. In 2014, after years dancing around various facets of American roots music, she made a conscious foray into country music with Goodnight Tender. Recorded in Asheville, North Carolina, Goodnight Tender took cues from classic outlaw country, honky tonk, Appalachian, bluegrass, and Southern rock music and featured appearances from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and blues guitarist Susan Tedeschi, among others. A critical success that took a unique perspective on life in the South, Ray followed it with 2018's Holler, another album of maverick leftist Americana with a soulful brass-adorned style that was partly inspired by Jim Ford's 1969 country cult classic Harlan County. Ray returned in early 2021 with the poignant "Muscadine," a song she wrote following the death of her beloved dog. The track featured a guest spot from singer/songwriter H.C. McEntire.
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