The English soprano, is one of the world's most renowned early music specialists. Originally, Dame Emma had no expectations of becoming a professional singer. As a classics student at Oxford and then a schoolteacher she sang for pleasure in choirs and small groups, always feeling most at home in Renaissance and Baroque repertoire. She joined the Taverner Choir in 1971 and in 1973 began her long association with the Consort of Musicke. Dame Emma took part in the early Decca Florilegium recordings with both the Consort of Musicke and the Academy of Ancient Music, at a time when most college-trained sopranos were not seeking a sound appropriate for early instruments.

To date, she has made well over a hundred recordings of all kinds, from sequences of Hildegarde of Bingen to madrigals of the Italian and English Renaissance, cantatas and oratorios of the Baroque, works of Mozart, Haydn and J. C. Bach. In 1999 Emma Kirkby was voted Artist of the Year by Classic FM Radio listeners. In November 2000 she received the Order of the British Empire, and in June 2007 was further honoured in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for appointment as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2011 Dame Emma was awarded the Queen's Medal for Music, awarded annually since 2005 to recognise individuals who have had significant influence over the musical life of the United Kingdom.