Emily Robison (born Emily Burns Erwin on August 16, 1972) is an American songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and a founding member of the multiple Grammy Award-winning female alternative country band the Dixie Chicks. Robison plays more instruments than the other band members, thus far having achieved mastery or proficiency with the banjo, dobro, guitar, papoose, bass, mandolin, accordion, and sitar. In addition, she harmonizes with backing vocals.
Emily Erwin was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Parents Paul Erwin and Barbara Trask moved the family to the northern suburban town of Addison, Texas on the edge of Dallas, where she was raised with her two older sisters, Julia and Martha. Her parents were both educators and nurtured the growing interest that both Emily and Martha (later nicknamed Martie) shared, and together both sisters became proficient on several instruments while in elementary school.
Emily began playing the violin at age seven, and the banjo at age ten, afterward learning all the string instruments she could find. Years later, in a documentary made by the band, Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, Martie joked that Emily was better than she at the fiddle, and because she wanted to keep the fiddle as her instrument, she forced Emily to learn something else. Emily responded by mastering the five string banjo, by reading books to teach herself the chord progressions.
From 1984-1989, Jane Frost, (Director of the Patsy Montana Museum and the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas), remembers watching the sisters mature, teaming up with schoolmates Troy and Sharon Gilchrist. The foursome were touring in a teenage bluegrass group they named the Blue Night Express, in part because of the amount of travelling they had to do to reach far away festivals, frequently with a parent or friend of the family towing them back home long after dark at night. They thought it was worth the sacrifices to meet their musical heroes and experienced the friendly comraderie and tricks of the trade on instruments from others. The sisters were said to have an "almost obsessive" interest in busking at small venues and attending bluegrass festivals. After Martie graduated from secondary school at Greenhill School (Addison, Texas) with Emily still completing her studies, both remained active in the bluegrass scene.
In 1989, after years of attending bluegrass festivals and busking where they could, Emily joined her sister Martie, guitarist Robin Lynn Macy, and bass player Laura Lynch. Frost, again, recalls being privy to the discussion that the four women had about a the possibility of a successful career as musicians together. Martie felt they could do well. Robin said,".. It's going to be a 'hot' band," to which Emily responded, "I give it six months, and if we aren't making money by then, I'm out of here!". Robison was shy, and the youngest member of the group. She had enjoyed playing throughout school, but was at an age where she was already entertaining thoughts of working hard to be accepted by the United States Air Force Academy.
By 1993, the band had evolved into a new direction. Macy left the group for a "purer" bluegrass sound. Lynch, thrust into the position of sole lead singer, was replaced by the sisters in 1995 with singer composer Natalie Maines after the group was unable to garner anything more than local interest Robison commented, "We were prepared to pay our dues for as long as it took; we were prepared for longevity. We know that we will always be playing music together, so we wanted to find someone who is just as determined and energetic as we are."
From there, massive commercial success ensued, with their 1998 and 1999 albums Wide Open Spaces and Fly both achieving diamond record status. Robison was a key element of the group's look, dyeing her hair blond to match the other two at first, then making it brunette and distinguishing herself visually from the other two. Her and her sister's instrumental virtuosity set the Chicks apart from many other country acts, male or female. Robison's songwriting has also been a factor in the Chicks' recording career.
Robison stood by Maines when the controversy over Maines' remarks about U.S. President George W. Bush hit the newswire on the eve before the Iraq War in 2003. She was the only bandmate to realize that, while in the U.K., there was a big anti-war sentiment in the audience, but that back in the United States, Maines' criticism of President Bush would not be well received. Nevertheless, even when her home was trashed, and plenty of editorials were predicting the end of the Dixie Chicks' successful careers in music, she remained loyal to Maines, as did her sister.
" I think our fans appreciate that we're real women going through what real women go through."-- Emily Robison
The Robisons have three children: Charles Augustus, called "Gus", born November 11, 2002 and twins Julianna Tex and Henry Benjamin born on April 14, 2005. All three children were conceived via invitro fertilization. They reside on a ranch near Medina, Texas, northwest of San Antonio, Texas.
Robison has been forthcoming about the fact that she and her husband used IVF to conceive their three children, saying "we were under the naïve assumption that once we started we’d be pregnant the first month. When it didn’t work that way, I was in shock,” She had mild endometriosis, “but nothing that would have kept me from getting pregnant.” Older sister Julia and other family members never experienced infertility, and thus it came as a shock to her sister Martie Maguire that she also experienced infertility, using Clomid and other options before at last using invitro fertilization to successfully conceive twice as had Emily. Both discuss the difficulties of planning for a family while touring, but are acutely aware of their good fortune with choices that other women would find financially prohibitive. The Dixie Chick song they wrote, "So Hard" tells of Robison's and Maguire's view on their struggle.
On August 6, 2008, a representative for Charlie Robison confirmed that the singer and Emily Robison are divorced. They "remain close friends and their family is the priority and will continue to be," he said. Charlie Robison filed for divorce in January. He and Emily Robison were at the Bexar County Courthouse on Wednesday when the matter was finalized. The divorce filing states their marriage had "become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities."