In Memoriam: Nanci Griffith (July 6, 1953 – August 13, 2021)

Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Nanci Griffith died on Friday, August 13, 2021, in Nashville, at the age of 68.

Griffith’s ringing, crystalline, pure voice struck a chord in the hearts and souls of her listeners, and the artfulness of her lyrics and the clarity of her music echoed across every album she released. She told colorful stories with an intimacy that painted scenes full of memorable characters that she would introduce affectionately in her concerts. Whenever she sang “Love at the Five and Dime,” she would re-create the smells, tastes, and sounds of a small town dime store—the smell of the popcorn machine, the taste of a vanilla Coke, the ping of the elevator. Her first major label release, Lone Star State of Mind (1987), introduced her warm vocals, her artful interpretations of others’ songs, and her transportive music to a larger audience in songs such as “Ford Econoline,” “Sing One for Sister,” and her version of Julie Gold’s “From a Distance.” Other artists scored hits with Griffith’s songs”: Kathy Mattea with “Love at the Five and Dime,” and Suzzy Boggus with “Outbound Plane.”

In 1994 Griffith released Other Voice, Other Rooms, a 17-song album of covers in which she paid tribute to songwriters who had influenced her. The album won her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and several other artists including Emmylou Harris, Odetta, Guy Clark, John Prine, and Iris DeMent joined their voices with Griffith’s on various songs.

Remembrances of Griffith have started to pour in. Suzy Bogguss released an Instagram post mourning Griffith’s passing: “My heart is aching😔A beautiful soul that I love has left this earth. I feel blessed to have many memories of our times together along with most everything she ever recorded. I’m going to spend the day reveling in the articulate masterful legacy she’s left us. 🌺 Rest my dear friend Nanci Griffith💖.”

In an official statement from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, CEO Kyle Young wrote: “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. 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.”

The last time I saw Griffith was in August 2006 at Town Hall in New York City at a show billed as a ‘Small Circle of Friends: Griffith, Rosanne Cash, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle.’ The evening unfolded as a song circle. The most memorable moment of the evening was when Griffith sang “Love at the Five and Dime” and ended with guitar note that mimicked the sound of the elevator bell and she said, as she always did in her shows, “going up.”

Thank you, Nanci Griffith, for sharing your magic with us and for carrying us upward with your music.

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