Nanci Griffith, Grammy-Winning Country and Folk Singer-Songwriter, Dies at 68

by Jonathan Howard
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Award-winning country and folk singer-songwriter, Nanci Griffith has died at 68 years old. Griffith’s management company released a statement on Friday. The singer was awarded the 1994 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Other Voices, Other Rooms helped make Griffith a household name. She was also a recipient of the American Trailblazer Award from the Americana Music Association in 2008.

Griffith wrote and co-wrote many songs that went on to have mainstream success. More than once, one of her songs was popularized by another artist. The best example is Kathy Mattea. Her cover of Griffith’s song Love at the Five and Dime reached the top-5 on the country charts. Griffith was a survivor of cancer twice. Once with breast cancer in 1996 and again in 1998 with thyroid cancer.

There has been no word from her management on the cause of death. Nanci Griffith’s management, Gold Mountain Entertainment said, “It was Nanci’s wish that no further formal statement or press release happen for a week following her passing.” It will be at least until the 20th before anything emerges.

Another one of Griffith’s well-known songs, From a Distance, was made popular by Bette Midler. That was back in 1987. Throughout her career, she would help write songs and record duets with some of country music’s biggest stars. Those included Emmylou Harris, John Prine, and Willie Nelson. Her recording of Love at the Five and Dime featured Darius Rucker.

Many times country music’s most talented stars don’t receive the critical acclaim they might deserve. However, Nanci Griffith’s music will live on for a long time. With the respect and influence she had in the country music world, there will be more of her songs sang and her memory will continue on.

Nanci Griffith and ‘Folkabilly”

While people call Nanci Griffth a country singer or a folk singer or this or that, she had her own word for her style. Griffith called her music Folkabilly. In fact, she spawned it as a legitimate genre. The term for her is the combination of the acoustic folk that she learned growing up in Austin, Texas. However, she mixed it with a rock and a little country and made it her own. Her music touches on love, heartache, and life as a whole.

“Nanci Griffith was a master songwriter who took every opportunity to champion kindred spirits, including Vince Bell, Elizabeth Cook, Iris DeMent, Julie Gold, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Eric Taylor and Townes Van Zandt,” said Kyle Young, CEO, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “Her voice was a clarion call, at once gentle and insistent. Her brilliant album The Last of the True Believers is a template for what is now called Americana music. And her Grammy-winning Other Voices, Other Rooms is a compelling guide to 20th-century folk songs. Nanci offered gifts that no one else could give.”

When she was in high school, Nanci Griffith’s high school boyfriend tragically passed away in a motorcycle accident. It occurred soon after their senior prom. Many of her songs are inspired by her late boyfriend and the emotion she brings to many of her songs invoke true heartache and pain. Few songwriters can write lyrics with the potential she packed her lyrics with, even fewer could take them and realize that potential with a melancholy sadness that touches listeners deep in their chest.

The last album that Nanci Griffith released was 2012’s Intersection which featured a quartet of Griffith, Maura Kennedy, Pete Kennedy, and Pat McInerney. Spending most of her life living in Nashville, Tennessee the music world as a whole will greatly miss Griffith and her contributions.

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