Nanci Griffith, the Grammy-winning folk and country songwriter, died Friday, her manager confirmed. No cause of death was given. She was 68.
Born in Seguin, Texas in 1953, the Nanci Griffith story took on a variety of occupations, but at heart, she was a musical artist from the get-go. Her first four albums were recorded on independent labels from 1978 onwards and generally showcased her own songs with occasional choice covers – “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Lyle Lovett’s “If I Were The Woman You Wanted.” As she found her poetic voice on the opening salvo of There’s A Light Beyond These Walls and Poet In My Window, one could discern a talent aching to break free, which she did on the magnificent Once In A Very Blue Moon (1984) recorded at Cowboy Jack Clement’s Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, Nashville, TN.
Later in her career, her country voice became unfettered thanks to her recruitment of top-notch players like Bela Fleck and Mark O’Connor to back her. This music brought her to an increasingly dedicated British fan base as well. Very much in the mold of the Southern Gothic writing school, Griffith concocted songs that painted entire cinematic landscapes during this era.
Always an artist with a contemporary flair, but still one who kept an eye on the past, Nanci Griffith managed to combine a nostalgic American gaze with up to the minute technology. She offered a superb set of torch songs on Ruby’s Torch and used her muse to make political statements of considerable weight on The Loving Kind. Her 2012 disc, Intersection, was made in her Nashville home studio and showed every sign that she was, like all the truly great Americana and country folks, in it for the long haul. She was a true charmer.
Earlier this year, Nanci Griffith, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lefty Frizzell, and Mark James were announced as the 2022 Hall of Fame class of inductees into the Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association.
The quartet of notables from the Lone Star state will be celebrated for their achievements as songwriters during the 2022 Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame Weekend. The event will have a Nanci Griffith-sized hole at its core throughout the celebration.