The Indigo Girls have sold more than 7 million albums worldwide, won one Grammy Award, and earned several Grammy nominations for their passionate folk-rock music, an inventive blend of Appalachian, pop, and rock influences. Their melodic guitar playing, tightly constructed harmonies, and relentless touring have helped the Atlanta-based duo achieve multi-platinum and gold albums. The singer-songwriters also have championed numerous progressive political concerns.
Emily Saliers was born July 22, 1963, in New Haven, Connecticut, and moved with her family to Decatur when she was in the sixth grade. At Laurel Ridge Elementary School she met Amy Ray, who was born April 12, 1964, in Atlanta, and was then in the fifth grade. The two formed a friendship, and they later discovered their complementary musical talents—Ray's brooding voice and edgier style balanced Saliers's vocals and folkier leanings. In 1981 they played for their first live audience: their high school English class.
After graduation Ray moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to study English and religion at Vanderbilt University, and Saliers settled in New Orleans, Louisiana, to major in English at Tulane University. Each returned to the Atlanta area in 1984, and they both graduated from Emory University.
By 1985 they were frequently performing at Atlanta clubs while promoting their independent single, "Crazy Game." In 1986 they released a six-track extended-play (EP) recording and followed it the next year with their first full-length album, Strange Fire.
A representative from Epic Records heard the duo at the Little Five Points Pub in 1988, and the Indigo Girls signed a recording contract with the major label. Their debut album on Epic, Indigo Girls (1989), featured what would become their biggest-selling single, "Closer to Fine," and a guest appearance by R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe. The album won a Grammy Award for best contemporary folk recording, and the duo was nominated in the best new artist category.
In 1990 they released their sophomore album, Nomads Indians Saints. That same year, Ray decided to honor her roots in Atlanta's independent music scene by founding Daemon Records, which she and a small staff run from an office in the Decatur area.
Following a live EP, Back on the Bus, Y'all (1991), the duo released two increasingly sophisticated works, Rites of Passage (1992) and Swamp Ophelia (1994). Their second live recording, 2000 Curfews, came out in 1995, and by 1996 all of their records had been certified gold or better.
In 1997 the Indigo Girls released their sixth full-length Epic album, Shaming of the Sun, and made the first of several appearances on the Lilith Fair tour, which spotlighted female musicians. In 1999 they released a collection of all-new material, Come on Now Social.
The double CD Retrospective (2000) brought together a decade of the Indigo Girls' best-known work. Ray released a solo album, Stag, on her Daemon label in 2001, followed by Prom (2005) and Didn't It Feel Kinder (2008). The duo released several albums in the first decade of the twenty-first century, including Become You (2002), All That We Let In (2004), Rarities (2005), Despite Our Differences (2006), and Playlist: The Very Best of Indigo Girls (2009).
Saliers and Ray are also noted for their activism in Native American land rights, environmental issues, gun safety, death penalty abolishment, and gay and lesbian rights. The Indigo Girls traveled to Cuba in March 1999 to participate in a songwriting workshop and to Chiapas, Mexico, in 1997 to work with the Zapatistas, a rebel group fighting for land and democracy for Mexican citizens.
The Indigo Girls were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2003.