When English soprano Emma Kirkby began her professional career in the mid-'70s, period performance practice was just beginning to make its way into the realm of vocal music. Kirkby, mentored by Jessica Cash, became a pioneer of period practice for Renaissance and Baroque vocal soloists. She studied classical literature at Oxford and took vocal lessons, but did not plan on becoming a singer. She joined the Taverner Choir in 1971, and a couple of years later, she began a long-lasting collaboration with the Consort of Musicke. She made her 1974 concert debut in London and her first tour of the United States in 1978. Tours to all of the major music capitals of the world have followed. Especially noteworthy was a tour of the Arabian states with lutenist Anthony Rooley, to whom she is married. In her collaborations with groups like those already mentioned, and others — such as the Academy of Ancient Music, London Baroque, Fretwork, L'Orfeo, and the Purcell Quartet — she increased the public awareness of correct Baroque performance practice while carefully avoiding pedantry. She brings a great deal of drama and musicianship to her performances. Besides the lute songs of the Renaissance era, Kirkby is well known for her performances of the cantatas and passions of Bach and the choral music of Monteverdi. Her voice is a very light, lyric soprano of unusual sweetness. She has excellent control of the voice and is able to sing without any vibrato, a quality that many practitioners of early music prefer.
Her hundreds of recordings give an excellent view of the range of her repertoire, at times even expanding on it, since she has recorded several operas that she has not sung on-stage, including Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Monteverdi's Orfeo, Handel's Orlando, and Hasse's Cleofide. Once in a while, she'll try something unexpected, such as the songs of Amy Beach or cantatas by little-known Baroque composers. Her early recordings were part of the Florilegium series from Decca. Since then she's recorded on Hyperion, Carus, CPO, Harmonia Mundi, BIS, and other labels. Kirkby was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2007.