Singer-Songwriter Nanci Griffith Dies at Age 68
Photo courtesy Rounder Records
Renowned Texas singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith has died in Nashville at the age of 68, Rounder Records has confirmed. No cause of death was announced.
Griffith, who released 18 studio albums (two of her final three came out on Rounder) over the course of her five-decade career, performed in a range of genres that she came to describe as “folkabilly.”
Griffith’s voice, high and child-like, had the power to bring the characters she wrote about to vivid life. She packed incredible emotion into her songs, which fans and musical contemporaries both appreciated. In fact, other singers often pushed her biggest hits into the mainstream: Kathy Mattea went to the top of the charts with “Love at the Five and Dime” in 1986. Suzy Bogguss, one of the first people to publicly eulogize Griffith’s passing, became a radio staple with her version of “Outbound Plane” in 1991, which Griffith and Tom Russell co-wrote three years prior.
That cooperative spirit infused some of Griffith’s best work. In 1987, she found modest success covering Julie Gold’s “From a Distance” (and larger success with the song in Ireland, where she often toured), before Bette Midler’s own interpretation became a hit in 1990. And in 1994, Griffith’s album Other Voices, Other Rooms won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. It was a collection of covers that served as tribute to some of her biggest songwriting inspirations, many of whom also guest on the album, including Emmylou Harris, John Prine, and Guy Clark.
Griffith was honored by the Americana Music Association in 2008 with its Lifetime Achievement Trailblazer Award.
Many other roots musicians took to social media to express their condolences. Country artist and activist Chely Wright was among the first, reminiscing on a specific instrument they both shared.
I am so sad to learn of Nanci Griffith’s passing.
She and I spoke on the phone a few years ago and reminisced about an old Martin guitar of Harlan Howard’s that he loaned to each us— back and forth— for years.
Our shared stewardship will forever be a treasure to me.
— Chely Wright (Vaxxed) (@chelywright) August 13, 2021
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz also shared a photo and beautiful story about how her parents met Griffith in the 1980s and asked her to a sign a copy of Thomas Wolfe’s book, You Can’t Go Home Again, because of Griffith’s song with the same name. “Her songs have accompanied me during pivotal moments in my life, and I know they always will,” she writes. Jarosz has also been known to cover Griffith’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” at her own shows.
Stacy Chandler contributed to this report.