Behind the Meaning of “Red Dirt Girl” by Emmylou Harris

The best folk songs center around a well-told story. After all, folk music started as an oral history. Emmylou Harris, one of folk’s greatest purveyors, achieved that goal in spades with “Red Dirt Girl.” In this poignantly tragic song, Harris tells the story of someone who otherwise would’ve flown below the radar. Uncover the meaning behind this song, below.

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[RELATED: The Meaning Behind “Boulder to Birmingham” by Emmylou Harris and the Gone-Too-Soon Legend Who Inspired It]

Behind the Meaning of “Red Dirt Girl” by Emmylou Harris

Me and my best friend Lillian
And her blue tick hound dog Gideon
Sittin’ on the front porch coolin’ in the shade
Singin’ every song the radio played
Waitin’ for the Alabama sun to go down
Two red dirt girls in a red dirt town
Me and Lillian

Although Harris has said that “Red Dirt Girl” is a fictional story, there are parallels to real life. Harris, an Alabama native herself, no doubt could point to someone from her life that matches the description of the “red dirt girl” she sings about in this song.

It’s a story of forgotten dreams. Harris’ main character, Lillian, finds herself settled down without her dreams realized. Quickly, regret starts to set in. Harris, who no doubt achieved her dream, could relate to how heartbreaking that would be if her music career hadn’t panned out.

She said, “There’s not much hope for a red dirt girl
Somewhere out there is a great big world
That’s where I’m bound”
“And the stars might fall on Alabama
But one of these days I’m gonna swing
My hammer down”

Lillian’s dream is escaping her small, Alabama town. As the story unfolds, we learn that Lillian lived and died without getting farther than Meridian. Towards the end of the song, Harris references the fact that a story like this one wouldn’t get much coverage. It’s tragic, but not punchy. With this track, Harris gives a voice to the voiceless.

But there won’t be a mention in the News of the World / About the life and the death of a red dirt girl / Named Lillian, she sings.

Revisit this track, below.

(Photo by Jared Siskin/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

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