Music Remembrance: Singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith (1953-2021)

By Daniel Gewertz

There were no performers who possessed more talent than singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith in the 1980s and early ’90s, when she was at her remarkable best.

Nanci Griffith performing at the Cambridge Festival in 2007. Photo: Wiki Common.

Nanci Griffith, the Texan “folkabilly” singer-songwriter, died in August at the age of 68, after fighting two different cancers for 25 years. In my decades of writing about contemporary folk music, I’d venture to say there were no performers who possessed more talent than Griffith in the 1980s and early ’90s, when she was at her remarkable best. Her single Grammy win was in the Contemporary Folk category, for Other Voices, Other Rooms, a guest-star-laden 1993 project of folk gems written by others. That she never won a Grammy for any of her own compositions is an injustice. She was both a stunning songwriter and a savvy song-finder. And as a singer, she gave “precious” a good name.

Boston took to Griffith earlier and stronger than any American city outside her native Texas. I got to interview her for the Boston Herald many times, starting right before she signed with the locally based Philo/Rounder Records in 1984; I felt I knew Griffith as well as a Northern journalist could. She was a tightly wound tumble of conflicting instincts: both forthright and private, both steely and prickly, proud of her achievements and openly hurt that she was not more widely rewarded for them. I saw a lot of gigs, many of them solo. But there was a single show in the mid-’80s that best displayed Griffith’s indomitable strength. It was at the Harvard Square basement room then called Passim Coffeehouse.

Let me set the scene. The late Bob Donlin was introducing her from the tiny Passim stage in his usual charming yet wooden way. Nanci was standing still in the back of the tightly packed little club, aware that most eyes were already upon her. At the utterance of her name, she stepped forward with resolute energy. But she had forgotten there were two brick steps at the edge of the seating area. She pitched violently forward, landing on hands and knees, almost prone. The crowd emitted a collective gasp. But Nanci jumped up and darted purposefully to the stage. She laughed, said something self-deprecating about her innate awkwardness, and then launched into one of her favorite upbeat songs full force, her energy perfectly focused. There were no further comments in the hour-long set about the mishap. It was a great show. Only days later did we hear that Griffith had suffered bruises to both skin and bone, and was seen at a local hospital.

That was Nanci Griffith: more or less equal parts gumption and vulnerability; a force of nature and a delicate, worried soul. She was a waiflike Texas sweetheart at first glance, but while the simple word “heart” was one of her favorites as a writer, Griffith’s own heart was, in interviews, often hidden. She was almost as likely to complain about slights as exhibit contentment. But one thing you could always expect: fierce affection for her talented musical friends and band-members.

Nanci Caroline Griffith was born on July 6, 1953, in Seguin, TX; the family moved to Austin soon afterward. She began singing at Austin open-mic nights at age 12, brought to the bars by her father. For a short spell in her early 20s she was a schoolteacher, but music called her. By 24 she had recorded her first LP for a tiny label, Featherbed. There was an early marriage and divorce, to a fellow Texan singer-songwriter, Eric Taylor, a Vietnam veteran and heroin addict. They later became friends.

I am not alone in thinking that Griffith’s best LPs were the two she did on the Philo/Rounder label in the mid-’80s, Once in a Very Blue Moon (1984) and Last of the True Believers (1986), both produced by folk-legend Jim Rooney. The musicians were mostly little known at the time. Now is a different story. Among the players and singers: Bela Fleck, Mark O’Connor, Lyle Lovett, Roy Husky Jr., Lloyd Green, Pat Alger, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell and Maura O’Connell.

A group photo in the CD booklet of Very Blue Moon shows Rooney and all the musicians and engineers at Jack Clement’s Cowboy Arms Hotel & Recording Spa. Taken beside a swimming pool, the photo is captioned “The Once in a Very Blue Moon Sink or Swim Team,” and the baker’s dozen of guys and gals assembled in shorts, jeans, and swim-trunks were obviously a loose, happy bunch. From that point on, Griffith named every band she fronted, big or small, The Blue Moon Orchestra. The clear desire, I assume, was to honor and recall that album’s familial spirit. The core of the band stayed with her for the long haul.

Essentially that same group created Last of the True Believers, in 1986, another graceful merging of folk and country, revved up by bluegrass fast-picking wizardry. That album copped a Grammy nomination, and “won” Nanci Griffith a contract at MCA Records, a big label in Nashville. It is no accident I put the word won in quotes, for the move to MCA, in my opinion, ultimately diminished Griffith’s career. MCA was signing a lot of new talent willy-nilly back in the late ’80s. (The Nashville industry joke at the time was that MCA stood for “More Crummy Artists.”) Griffith told me, and others, that the label didn’t know what to do with her. Yet her first two albums didn’t muck up the basic Griffith sound. It was Nanci herself who coined the term folkabilly, the merging of folk and rockabilly. It’s a pretty fair term. Griffith always had two distinct voices, her exceedingly high, delicate ballad voice, and the gutsy, mid-range crowing that she unleashed for life-affirming uptempo numbers. They seemed to almost come from two different people, those two voices, and it is not surprising that her country radio audience did not cotton to them.

“The radio person at MCA Nashville told me that I would never be on radio because my voice hurt people’s ears,” Griffith told me once, and she told it to a lot of journalists. She was hurt.

She actually didn’t do badly for MCA. She had a couple of singles in the country Top 40, and her first two albums made it above the #30 mark. That wasn’t good enough for the label, though: they wanted a full-stop radio star. I don’t think that her failure to achieve adulation from the country music audience was about Griffith’s very high voice: it was about her lack of traditional sexiness, or even traditional “womanliness.” Nanci might’ve been the darling of the blue state folk circuit, but on country radio she was a sad-voiced skinny girl without a whit of sex appeal. And she was no good ol’ girl, either.

There was a brief period in the late ’80s when the Nashville-centered country music industry flirted with a wider artistic palette. Steve Earle called it, with biting wit, “country music’s great credibility scare.” By 1990 it was nearly over, and MCA farmed Griffith out to their pop division. That meant MOR, Middle of the Road. She was suddenly a rootsy poet wandering among the synthesizers. Ghost is a favorite word in Griffith’s lyrics, but it was her later years at MCA that really might have spooked her. On a few later albums she vacillated between her natural balladic voice and an oddly pretentious vocal approach that sounded like a cloying little girl.

Her next label, Elektra, brought about two triumphs: her Grammy-winning Other Voices, Other Rooms (named after the Truman Capote novel) and The Dust Bowl Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra. But ultimately, her great victories in life weren’t about awards, label deals, or Top 40s. It is about the dozens of fine songs — many of them little short stories in concise song-form. A few were hits for other singers, such as “Love at the Five & Dime” and “Listen to the Radio” (Kathy Mattea) and “Outbound Plane” (Suzy Boggus). “Gulf Coast Highway,” “I Wish It Would Rain” and the sublime Dust Bowl ballad “Trouble in the Fields” were sung by many, including Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. And then there’s the remarkable “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go,” which bounds between Dublin and Chicago, the present and the past, to show that “If we poison our children with hatred / Then the hard life is all that they’ll know.” That one was even done by Cher.

Her love songs often struck an honest yet wistful tone, at times unusual in phrasing and the pattern of thoughts. But it was her story-songs — inspired by such favorite Southern writers as Capote, Carson McCullers, and Tennessee Williams — that employed striking narrative choices. None were bolder than “Mary & Omie,” a song she chose to sing in the first person as a middle-aged Black woman whose loving husband moved the family north and fought for a middle-class existence “because Omie wouldn’t settle for less.”

Considering her battle with two cancers, her lack of recent albums, and her bitterness over her pursuit of mainstream success, it is possible to paint a melancholy personal picture of Griffith in her later years. While her story-songs about other people remained hopeful, her personal songs of loneliness and brief love affairs became less poignant and enchanting as the years progressed. In the old days, her songs could break your heart and mend it again. Some later ones merely emitted frustrated sadness. But there is grace to be found even in those weaker works. After all, the courage to sing about the neurotic feelings of the heart is uncommon. She left a large body of notable work. There is no better testament to her talent than the 84-minute concert film Winter Marquee, recorded in Knoxville in 2002 (available on YouTube).

It shows Griffith not only in prime form, at 49, but also fronting a phenomenally talented version of her long-lasting Blue Moon Orchestra. The communal feeling of her early albums is evident. The live CD version of the concert also finds Griffith back on her old label, Rounder.

I was delighted she chose to revive one of my favorite songs from her 1984 Blue Moon album, “I’m Not Drivin’ These Wheels.” For starters, it takes place in Massachusetts, on a bus ride Nanci took from Boston to Marshfield to be interviewed by Dick Pleasants on WATD. As in many of her songs, the lyrics have odd little jumps in logic and narrative that force the listener to fill in the blanks. So when the chorus goes “Bring the prose to the wheel / I’m not driving these wheels,” she is singing of the wheels of literary inspiration as well as the wheels of the bus she rides, and the word prose refers to the book in her lap as well as the song lyrics she is beginning to dream up. She sounds positively exultant that the creative forces come from outside herself.

So many of her compositions reveal her own life, lived alone. On the great song “Daddy Said,” the titular character advises, “You’ll never learn to fish on a borrowed line / you’ll never learn to write if you’re walkin’ round cryin’ / And it’s a pity your lover died young / but you’ll never get tired of living alone.”

That may have proven true of Griffith’s hit-and-miss romantic life. But her real love life was with her musicians and friends, and that life lasted. The Winter Marquee show feels like something more than a superb concert: it is a career benediction. Near its end, Griffith brings out a surprise guest — Emmylou Harris, a good friend. Harris walks up to the mic with a grin as wide as it is authentic. “I just have one thing to say,” she announces, looking at her friend. “Isn’t she lovely?”

She was.

The talent at Club Passim’s Nanci Griffith night represented at least two generations: it was a nice, low-key salute to the singer/songwriter, who played the venue often in the mid-’80s. Arts Fuse review

For 30 years, Daniel Gewertz wrote about music, theater and movies for the Boston Herald, among other periodicals. More recently, he’s published personal essays, taught memoir writing, and participated in the local storytelling scene. In the 1970s, at Boston University, he was best known for his Elvis Presley imitation.

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  1. Tim on September 14, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    This is terrific. Such a loss, and not just now, but for the last 15 years or so.

    I agree with everything, particularly about those first two albums, but I might have a little more love for the “Little Love Affairs” album. As you noted, some great songs from that record, and as a whole, it’s got that feel that Nanci brought to her shows in those days.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 15, 2021 at 12:18 pm

      I don’t think I mentioned “Little Love Affairs” by name, though in an even longer first draft i did. I said that the 1st 2 MCA albums didn’t alter her basic approach. “Little Love Affairs” has so many great songs. As I recall, the only thing I thought negatively about her first MCA album, “Lone Star State of Mind” was that the title song was not a favorite of mine, probably because I didn’t think Texas needed yet another anthem. But a lot of wonderful songs there, too. “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods” gets a public airing here. (It was on her very first album, too, but better on “Lone Star.”

      • JW on September 19, 2021 at 4:32 pm

        I saw her as part of Emmylou Harris’ landmine concerts. She was wonderful. Would have loved to see her younger when she was more optimistic. Her 1989 Austin City Limits is such a performance.

      • JW on September 19, 2021 at 4:47 pm

        I would add that I’ve read many articles about her including those in the Texas press with who she had a contentious relationship. Yours is the first article that shed light on her sadness and perhaps loneliness. When I saw her in Pittsburgh as part of the landmine concerts in 2001 she alluded to her failed marriage and how the Vietnam War had impacted her then husband. Even in the company of renowned performers like Harris, Cockburn and others her performance stood out. But there definitely was a sadness about her that was not so evident in the performances I saw on tape earlier when her career track was on the upswing and the future seemed to hold more promise.

        • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 11:57 pm

          I know some of the Texas newspaper music writers were very enthusiastic about Nanci Griffith. It is possible that that some viewed her as a defector to Nashville. More likely, they were not fans of her more political works. I know she could come across in interviews as complaining: check out an interview story in Rolling Stone from the early ’90s, one of her few stories in a national press outlet. I read it online in my research for my piece. It seemed pretty strange that the writer would decide to lead the piece with Nanci’s disgruntled feelings about being forced to tour 11 months of the year, and her envying mega-selling artists. How needlessly negative of the journalist… most of Rolling Stone’s readers hadn’t heard of her, so it was imply an odd way to introduce her to its wide reading audience.

          • John Wisniewski on September 21, 2021 at 8:58 pm

            Michael Corcoran was a music critic for one of the Austin papers was very critical of her. It seemed personal. Several other Texas critics were as well. For what it’s worth they were all men. That prompted letters from Nanci to their publications where she lambasted them. A couple of the papers published her letter. Then in 1999 Texas Monthly did an expose on that situation titled You Can Never Go Home Again or something similar. In my view it isn’t a fair assessment but of course I was a fan or hers. A lot of the stuff was petty. They criticized her accent as not being an authentic accent. They used anonymous sources of musicians in Nashville who essentially said she wasn’t a nice person. Nothing on the record mind you. Even rumors of her not being nice to subordinate colleagues over the years. Rumors mind you. I think the most unfair and vicious was where they called her and her songs phony, inauthentic. Claims that she claimed to be one thing in Ireland and something else in Texas. In my assessment it was unwise of her to write letters to these critics. But the article in Texas Monthly was pretty much a hit piece. The final insult was when she died Texas Monthly wrote a glowing piece on how great an artist she was.

            • Kevin Connolly on September 22, 2021 at 10:35 am

              Imagine that, a critic being ‘needlessly negative ‘. Artists like Nanci Griffith was an inspiration to many artists who follow their own path. That’s why their called artists, right ?

              • Steve on September 22, 2023 at 12:32 pm

                Spot on !!! Exactly 2 years too !! I Love Nanci Griffith !! Sometimes you think the Cassette player is running too fast with her UNIQUE voice !! A true ” Musician’s Musician indeed !!!! 😇😍🥰🤩🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶

        • Barry on April 28, 2023 at 1:01 am

          Texas was a really nice state when I vacationed at South Padre Island in 1968. I haven’t been there since then but, other than the Cowboys’ SB years, there’s been inordinate amounts of tragic and negative news out of Texas in recent decades. Of all musical artists, Nanci Griffith seems like the last one that would be treated with such hatefulness and disrespect.

      • Buck Monday on September 26, 2021 at 6:59 pm

        Something about”There’s a Light Beyond These Woods” that always touched my soul. Maybe because I grew up in a very rural place where all we knew of the big world outside was in our imaginations.

    • JW on September 23, 2021 at 4:19 pm

      Agree completely. While Nanci passed recently she’s been gone for the better part of 15 years or more. A huge and largely unappreciated talent(at least by the wider public) I believe health issues both physical and emotional made her withdraw from the scene. When I watch her wonderful Austin City Limits performance from 89 she seemed so positive and optimistic like she expected great things were in store. She didn’t realize she was already peaking. When that reality hit it may have been too much.

      • Lew Black on September 25, 2021 at 11:23 pm

        The ’89 Austin City Limits concert that you mentioned gave me my first glimpse of her. I turned the show just as she was singing “Last of the True Believers,” which I think was her finale. I was so struck by her that I bought the CD, and quickly added the rest of her first four albums. I had no problems at all with her first two MCA albums. The sound may have been more commercial, but were so much better than most “commercial” country music. I saw her in concert numerous times and she always gave a good performance.

        • Justin Williams on December 19, 2021 at 2:30 am

          This is exactly how I discovered her. I caught half the show while running on a treadmill and stopped my workout so I could hear her beautiful voice. I had a crush, went out bought all her cds and listen to them daily , connecting to a part of me that I thought had disappeared. My heart had beenbrought Alice through her beautiful story telling .

          • Daniel Gewertz on February 21, 2022 at 4:50 pm

            I love that line of yours, Justin: “connecting to a part of me that I thought had disappeared.” That’s about as deep a musical gift as there is in this life.

    • Beth Pennings on July 30, 2022 at 4:15 pm

      I heard Nanci in concert five or six times. I agree she was phenomenal in the 90s but actually my favorite concert was in August 2005 in Fargo, ND. She had incredible talent backing her and if she was struggling, she didn’t show it. But it was one of the last concerts she ever did. I loved her.

      As for her voice hurting people’s ears, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and often in the lyrics of their music. Iris Dement, John Prine …. hardly smooth, easy listening voices there but listen to their heart and you’ll grow to love the voice

    • kathryn Carlson on January 4, 2023 at 7:58 am

      I loved her singing! She did
      Boots of Spanish Leather” better than all the others. Kathryn

  2. Jeff on September 14, 2021 at 11:09 pm

    I am shocked and amazed at the outpouring of sadness and loss at this wonderful artist. And yet thinking about it, a part of me is not amazed. I discovered Nanci’s music at a particularly hard time in my life. Working very hard to pay a large debt, and not able to spend ANY money on anything as frivolous as music, but being a total music junkie of almost all genre, I was saved by a suggestion of a friend that I use my library card and check out some new music from the library. I went to the library assuming I would be embarking on a study of old dusty classical music albums, but hey, it would be something new to listen to. Amazed to find that the library was actually lending out CDs of artists actually born after 1900, my eyes came upon the cover of One Fair Summer Evening. Intrigued by the interesting cover, I selected it and placed it in my pile. I took home my selections, and popped OFSE in my cd player and started cleaning and straightening my apartment. A few bars into the first number, I had to stop and just listen. I felt my cares melt away as I got to know the characters in her songs, and heard her angelic but still somehow human voice sing meaningful, beautiful, and heart touching lyrics. I started to cry during the last song,”Love at the Five and Dime”. I played the album for guests the next night and there wasnt a dry eye..

    I discovered a few years ago when my assistant decided she could take no more and had to re-alphabetize and index my music collections, that Nanci took up more shelf space than any other modern artist. I discovered this week how dreadfully much I will miss her presence on earth. Im torn, and torn up. I know Nanci as the artist that touched my heart the most, but also know the struggles she went thru. Selfishly bereft and missing her presence, but glad she has caught that blackbird’s wing…

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 15, 2021 at 12:21 pm

      What a wonderful reply. I love the story about the library discovery. And you and your friends crying at “5 & Dime.” (I recall when that song first came out there was a store called, still, a ‘5 & 10″ in Belmont, and I thought of the song every time I biked by.) Nanci reached a lot of people, despite her lack of super-stardom. Thanks for the great batch of thoughts and memories.

    • Marcia on September 20, 2021 at 1:23 pm

      Great article about an absolute Great Artist. I discovered her back in the eighties at what was the Strawberry Music Festival near Yosemite. Followed her ever since and yes I have truly missed her voice and guitar for the last fifteen years as well. She sang my feelings. She had the words. Got me through alot.. Blue Moon, Five and Dime, etc.
      A piece of my heart gone with her leaving us. Thanks for this article about her. Marcia

      • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 7:48 pm

        Thank you, Marcia. I think she hoped she would reach people as intimately as she did with you.

    • Peter Power on January 18, 2022 at 1:14 pm

      I absolutely love OFSE, it really captures the intimacy that Nanci could bring to her stage performances. I thankfully had the pleasure of seeing Nanci in concert on many occasions in the UK.
      Sadly missed. RIP Nanci.

    • Cindy Teyf on April 23, 2023 at 8:53 pm

      Jeff –
      I’m so touched by your words, years after you wrote them. Nanci’s music was so meaningful, no matter what label for which she sang. She’s kind of a female equivalent to Dan Fogelberg who never really had mainstream success but who also wrote some very touching songs. I really appreciate reading your feelings about Nanci in your life. She may not have hit the mainstream like she wanted but she sure did touch a good many of us very deeply.

  3. Eric Thiessen on September 15, 2021 at 12:52 am

    I was a big fan of hers, starting with the 2 Philo albums you mentioned and her Austin City Limits appearances. There were virtually no Americana type acts on commercial radio then, save for the odd PBS station that would play almost anything on a particular evening, so ACL and decent record stores were necessary if you wanted to hear her.

    The purity of her voice, quality of material and the feeling that she was singing truths, even if they were sometimes songs about characters in a song writer’s imagination, endeared her to many, myself included, rendering an authenticity that country radio has yet to understand.

    Like those in the limited pantheon of true artistes, she will be missed and never duplicated.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 15, 2021 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts and memories. As a music fan I was lucky to live in Boston with its plethora of small and college radio stations. I remember playing Nanci in my last year at WMBR (1985) and my brief stints at WUMB (1989-91). She was a TRUE original.

  4. Keith on September 15, 2021 at 1:58 am

    A small part in all of us died with her passing. She is missed; we have her songs, her grace and her memory, still she will always be missed.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 15, 2021 at 12:28 pm

      Her voice and lyrics will never die, as long as people play and grow affected by her heart and beauty.

  5. Dick Weissman on September 15, 2021 at 8:05 am

    I was working in Los Angeles for the Grammy organization in 1988-1989. It was a horrible job and involved very little that had anything to do with. We. did have access to many recordings, and every morning I’d play There’s A Light Beyond These Hills by Nanci Griffith. That song sustained my spirit through 14 months of frustration and anger. I never met Nanci Griffith, but I’d bet that her songs had a similar effect on many other listeners.

  6. Daniel Gewertz on September 15, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    I had a mention of “A Light Beyond These Woods, Mary Margaret” that i cut because it was getting too long a piece. But I think it was one of the greatest songs ever written about girlhood friendship. (Now that’s a subject country music doesn’t pursue, eh? I used to play it on the radio alongside Michelle Shocked’s “Anchorage.” I remember going to a press conference long ago at a bar on Landsdown St. where Grammy people were trying to convince Boston journalists and radio people to join up. I said something disparaging about Grammy tastes, as I recall. But my favorite memory of that evening is when local jazzman Russ Gershon mentioned, in a wry way, that he was nominated for a recent Grammy, but did not join the organization…and the Grammy rep went ballistic. You would’ve thought he had just pleaded guilty to robbing the poor.

    • Tim on September 26, 2021 at 4:00 pm

      Completely agree about “A Light Beyond These Woods” – a masterful piece of songwriting. Even though I was never a little girl and my childhood friendships with boys would differ in details, the feeling it evokes about those kind of lifetime friendships – the very serious events that inevitably take place, as well as the ways your paths significantly diverge from each other and how you dreamed it would turn out, all the while keeping the original connection – is perfect.

      I always had the sense that the Texas music press found both Nancy’s writing and phrasing/voice too precious for the image that they wanted their musical heroes to project, and what they wanted to project about themselves.

      • Daniel Gewertz on September 30, 2021 at 10:25 pm

        I don’t know about her fights with the Texas press. But I can well imagine Tim’s comment on her precious voice and phrasing (both of which got more so in the ’90s) wasn’t “authentically” Texan enough… whatever that might mean. I think it is motly image. Though I assume most big city Texan music journalists aren’t rednecks, Griffith was openly, many would say pretentiously, proud of her love for literature, and wore her pride on her album covers. She was nostagic not for old-time Texas, but for a Greenwich Village arty 1950s and 60s scene she never knew first hand. And she was anti-war. All of that must have stuck in some Texan craws. It is also true that a few of her later sorrowful, introspective songs exhibited self-pity, not the kind of tearful good ol’ gal pity popular in more mainstream country material.

  7. Gerald Peary on September 15, 2021 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks so much, Dan, for this lovely lovely tribute from someone truly in the know. Since Griffith died, I’ve been waiting to read a piece which properly mourns her. This is it!

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 5:47 pm

      Such praising words from Gerry Peary, fine journalist, made my day when I came home exhausted after a long drive last night. Thanks.

    • JW on September 20, 2021 at 6:39 pm

      I agree completely. Of all the ones I’ve read the most personal tribute. Of course many of her colleagues wrote nice things about her on social media. I was surprised no mention of her passing when I last checked on Emmylou Harris’ Twitter account. That strikes me as odd as they were longtime friends and collaborators. Anyone have insight as to this?

      • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 7:45 pm

        No insight. Hard to imagine. I do know that Nanci Griffith left instructions for people not to write anything for a week after her death. I don’t know why. But it left me confused… thinking for a bit (wrongly) that the death announcement was a week old.

      • Bob Jones on December 31, 2021 at 2:36 pm

        I saw Emmylou on October 4. She did Gulf Coast Highway— her own arrangement from her cover with Willie Nelson. Very elegant and understated. I think the true professionals, especially those who knew Nanci closely, kept her memory close to the vest and away from public consumption. That is the best way to honor her.

        • Daniel Gewertz on February 21, 2022 at 4:56 pm

          Hi Bob. I know it’s a common name, but by any chance are you the beloved Bob Jones who ran the Newport Folk Fest for decades?

  8. Jeanie Stahl on September 15, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    What a thoughtful and astute tribute to Nanci.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 7:17 pm

      Thank you, Jeanie! I think of you and Mason every time I walk 3 blocks from my home and pass the corner of Magnolia St. and Robert Road, see the site of the former Moscatel Spa… and remember your old song.

  9. John Jenkins on September 15, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    Beautiful article. I’m absolutely embarrassed to say I’ve only started to listen to Nanci in the last few years but my, what a singer songwriter and artist she was. On one hand I’m embarrassed but on the other I’ve a catalogue of music to explore that touches me like I was discovering music for the first time. As a songwriter myself her influence has guided me in recent years. I even was able to include “Woolworths” into one of my own song “Cracks” this year. She also introduced me to some stunning songs on the two “other voices” albums and amazing artists as well. A life changing artist and a beautiful person as I am finding out. X

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 7:33 pm

      Nice to hear from a Liverpool singer-songwriter. I love that city. Nanci was on that precipice of so-called “real” widespread music fame, so you don’t need to be embarrassed! But the ability to discover new music with the same power as when you were a teen… that’s a gift. (By the way, I’d also recommend her first 2 albums on the MCA label, “A Lone star state of mind” and “Little Love Affairs. And her beautiful live album from ’89.)

  10. Sara on September 16, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you for your tribute to her . I’ve never been this sad to lose someone I never knew. Her songs, her presence, like you said both vulnerable and strong. She made so many of us feel that she knew our heart. I hope she’s feeling the love.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 11:40 pm

      “Hearts in Mind” was the title of one of her later albums. Feeling like she knew “our heart”… How beautifully said, Sara.

  11. Shannon on September 17, 2021 at 12:25 am

    Thank you so much for this article and to everyone for sharing your experiences of her. I discovered her one fall evening many years ago on NPR and saw her perform on both coasts. Her music has sustained me through many years and I am grateful for the generous feelings and stories she shared with us.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 7:41 pm

      Thanks, Shannon. Do you know her early song “Working in Corners”? I think of it sometimes when I am working alone at night and feeling blue.

      • CATHIE DONLON on October 3, 2021 at 4:30 pm

        Hi Daniel,
        I sure know “Working in Corners”. I just found out today 10/03/2021 that Nanci is gone. I was listening to her music on YouTube and just went to check to see her age in comparison to mine, I am 64. When I saw that she died last month, well, my mouth flew wide open and I blurted out a big, OH NO! I feel so very sad like a family member has passed. I have so many LP’s, cassettes, CD’s of Nanci’s down through the years. Her music has always helped me during troubled times and made me feel good in happy times. My goodness, I had no idea she was even sick. I don’t even recall how I discovered her music. I just know when I did that it really grew on me to where I kept buying and buying and buying whenever she came out with something new. Rest In Peace Sweet Nanci 💖

  12. Richard Magahiz on September 20, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    I too was a very big fan of Nanci’s. In the very early days of the Web I was part of a mailing list of devotees who would trade cassette tapes samizdat-style of her music and her friends which helped get me through a time of a lot of trial caused by a career change. She attracted great musicians and helped the careers of more than a few as they were coming up. My favorite songs were the ones with the simplest and most heartfelt delivery, though I knew that the ones with big production were things she felt she had to do to solve the riddle of success which I had to respect. Thank you for writing from your experience and honoring her memory.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 20, 2021 at 11:30 pm

      I always knew she had some devoted fans, but it is remarkable to read how she was a light in the darkness, a help with troubled times. It makes sense, since she was an emotionally available artist.

      • Tad on December 31, 2021 at 12:42 pm

        Here it is almost 4 months later and I’m still reading about her thanks for this wonderful article and I’m listening to a lot of live recordings. Nanci will become much more famous much like Hank Williams did after his death. In a way it would be belittling to her abilities and accomplishments to become an Opry act.. her songs and choice of material always had some depth to it and that is why are we are seeing here and other places the deep feelings that people have for her and her music and she was also a wonderful entertainer. I know a couple of musicians who backed her up in her group and they only have kind and wonderful things to say about her. She inspired their songwriting. It’s a rarity where a man or woman can see things in life and put words to them and present them in a small format such as a song or poem and reach people that way. Nanci and the people she championed, the songwriters the singers and the authors, their real life stories, edited down to a few minutes can have as much impact as a short story or a novel. My life is become enriched from her highlighting towns Van zandt or Blaze Foley or Eudora
        Welty, etc. When Nanci passed away I didn’t realize how much impact she made on myself and others. Thanks for this great article.

  13. […] Source: Music Remembrance: Singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith (1953-2021) – The Arts Fuse […]

    • Tony on September 25, 2021 at 7:17 pm

      I was at 32-year-old DJ and Taos New Mexico and the owner of the station, KTAO, but Nancy and her band in a motel called the Kachina Lodge. I didn’t know much about her but I showed up that evening with the other employees and was greatly impressed at the end of their short show. I was sure she was singing just to me and I was completely smitten by her ethereal and sometimes raunchy voice, and by the lyrics which made me think that she must be a short story writer besides. Love it to five and dime could easily be made into a movie. The passing of Nanci upset me more that anything I can quite remember. I grew up in Houston and went to school at UT and I feel that I lost a special compadre.

    • Tracy Pardue on December 26, 2022 at 12:40 am

      The song Love at the five & dime ,was written by David Samuel Pardue while stationed in Germany 1970, The original name of the song is ‘Rita ‘ !!!! I have lots of family members who are willing to confirm this statement, I remember listening to the song long before Nanci recorded it!!!

  14. Newt Hamlin on September 25, 2021 at 11:09 am

    As a 79 year old Austinite and longtime music fan, she was my favorite female singer. My favorite song was her cover of Townes Van Zant’s “Towers.” She blessed and was blessed.

  15. Jim on September 25, 2021 at 2:40 pm

    I too loved Nanci Griffith. I just want to mention my favorite song of hers. It is called “ cradle of the interstate” and it comes from an early 90’s soundtrack and epitomized her beautiful voice and heart. Thank you for the article.

  16. Bonny Holder on September 25, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    Why is there so much mystery around her cause of death? Did she kill herself? It happens. Did she die in her home, and nobody found her for a month? Was alcohol a factor? Covid? AIDS? Lung cancer? Self-medication? None of these things are unusual or shameful. Why the wall of silence?

    if they had said, almost two months ago,, “…died of cancer,” or cirrhosis, we wouldn’t even be talking about her death.

    • Mbw on September 26, 2021 at 8:20 am

      My understanding from Facebook posts by her sister is that Nanci’s last wishes were that the details of her death not be shared.

  17. Tony on September 25, 2021 at 7:21 pm

    I was at 32-year-old DJ in Taos New Mexico and the owner of the station, KTAO, booked Nanci and her band in a motel called the Kachina Lodge. I didn’t know much about her but I showed up that evening with the other employees and was greatly impressed at the end of their short show. I was sure she was singing just to me and I was completely smitten by her ethereal and sometimes raunchy voice, and by the lyrics which made me think that she must be a short story writer besides. Love at the five and dime could easily be made into a movie. The passing of Nanci upset me more that anything I can quite remember. I grew up in Houston and went to school at UT and I feel that I lost a special compadre.

  18. MBW on September 26, 2021 at 8:37 am

    A nice tribute. I’m always interested in seeing what albums critics and fans responded to.

    I was a little bit surprised that ‘Flyer’ wasn’t mentioned. In mind mind that was her peak (and it’s my personal favorite of hers). The songwriting felt quite personal on that album.

    I agree, however, that Winter Marquee is an excellent recording…really a nice career summary up to that point and her voice sounded as good as ever.

  19. Christopher on September 26, 2021 at 8:46 am

    so long ago ,my freind introduced me to her,he would have music night which would consist of a lot a booze good food and great music by artists off the path of commercial stardom.fell in love again and again went to three concert in a row almost to the point of stalking,her with the crickets ,her at south Carolina and numerous concerts at the walnut creek monastery in NC. On these music nights up in the quit mountains around Lake fontana some how or nother I would get his cd player stuck on repeat, a feat that could not be done any other time for some reason,and blast ,I knew love when I could still believe it was the greatest power in the world,at Mach 9 as he would say ,the monastery also would be lite up with her Angelica voice ,all who visited were introduced to her.she comes with me where eri I go and times I call her name,my favorite beyond a doubt,she was love ,and she shared it with us all.give her gift to some one,share her masage the world needs it, she did her in peice true love of mine ,meet you down on congress to the Woolworth store be driving a Ford econo line listening for the sound of lonliess…………………..

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 30, 2021 at 10:37 pm

      It’s good to read that kind of passion for an artist of such high quality.

      • Christopher on October 1, 2021 at 4:41 am

        Yes sir mr.peary said it best to you my freind thank you so much for the article.what a tribute and so respectfully written thank you so very much.

  20. Robin Bugbee on September 26, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    I have written several poems about losing Nanci. She was a pal to many of us who never met her. I’ve been a follower for many years and never took her for granted. Particularly the last few years when her absence was so apparent to us all. Nanci was a gift of Grace and though I know that all life is temporary…we’ve lost so many (John Prine being so terribly painful) and it was particularly cruel to take Nanci when she vanished from our presence. I am terribly sad that she is no longer here to breathe the Texas air with us but I will always love her and her sweet music will never fade away. Much love Nanci girl!

  21. Jennie on September 27, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I join the chorus of thanks for this tribute – the best one I’ve seen, and I share your feelings and views. I first saw Nancy at Sanders Theater in the early eighties and fell in love immediately. She is my favorite singer-songwriter for her sweet heart and fearless, frank, genuine vulnerability and strength. Was disappointed in the Nashville move, though I could understand her intention with it. Her songs have been on a constant loop in my head since hearing about her death, and I pray she’s at peace and her music continues to touch people for years to come!

  22. Steve on September 27, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Very well done article. Fantastic artist. And so many of the comments were spot on also. It was a pleasure to read the comments along with the article. Well done.

  23. Mike Huggins on September 27, 2021 at 4:18 pm

    I was watching on YouTube just yesterday the long video for her “Other Voices, Other Rooms” album and tour (also have it on VHS!). It opens with her singing “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods,” and I was thinking what a great song this is and why hadn’t I thought this before, but then I realized, “Wait, she’s sitting on the very end of a diving board over a completely dry pool, marvelously singing that song (was it all in one take?).” And then she talked about the school, and I’m thinking again, “Wait this is Austin, it can’t be too cool sitting there doing this for an extended period.” It was totally awesome when I thought about it. Like, how do you even turn around to get back off the diving board? It’s not like you’re going to fall into a forgiving cool pool of water if you slip. No, it’s a long drop down onto concrete. I don’t know, but it just blew my mind because it really was a crazy thing, but it looks so benign, at first.

    That said, I just wanted to thank you for this great remembrance and article. I echo some others above that this is how she should be remembered, warts and all. I only saw her once, in 1999, at the Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana, CA, with my wife, and it was just a magical concert that I will never forget.

  24. Nancye Tuttle on September 29, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    A wonderful tribute to a true talent — and so good to see your byline again, Dan Gewertz. Thank you!

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 30, 2021 at 10:46 pm

      Thank you! A piece on the Griffith Passim tribute night just ran today on ArtsFuse.

  25. Teresa on October 15, 2021 at 10:09 pm

    What a beautifully written tribute. Thank you. I still can’t believe she is gone. I have never been so affected at the loss of someone I have never known personally. But I feel somehow that I did know her. Her music has touched me over the years like no other singer-songwriter. I feel blessed to have seen her at The Music Hall in Portsmouth NH in the early 2000’s. Flyer is my favorite. Maybe someday I’ll see you on that Southbound Train, Nanci. I hope you are at peace.

  26. Lynne on October 22, 2021 at 9:00 pm

    Thank you for writing this. She was wonderful in concert. I saw her in Portland, ME. She will be missed. And thank you for mentioning Passim. Saw some fantastic performances there in 1970s and 1980s.

  27. Mark Webster on October 24, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    I like many sadly learned of Nanci Griffith upon her passing. I have been listening to her music ever since. I am amazed, as such a music fan, I never heard of her before. I almost feel she is now a close friend. Nanci, you have nothing to ever feel sad about. You are a true artist and you gave until it hurt. From this guy, thank you,
    I would say to the critics, she had her own mold. If any fault is to be applied its a mismanagement of a great artist. If I was a woman, I would champion NG as a role model for the ages of strength and perseverance. As a man and a music fan, I certainly do. I would re release her album Fair Summer Evening which to me is a beautiful expression of music. Make a greatest hits and put her back on the radio. The music industry clearly missed the mark. My respect to all and your freedom of opinion and expression.

  28. Oliver on October 24, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    One of my late stepfather’s very favourite musicians. Among his vast vinyl and CD collection was Nanci’s complete discography, from ‘There’s a Light Beyond These Woods’ (1978) to ‘Intersection’ (2012).

    As much as it broke my heart when my stepdad died, I’m glad he didn’t live to see poor Nanci’s passing. One of the tracks on ‘Intersection’ is ‘Hell No (I’m Not Alright)’ — “Nothing’s gonna change / No end in sight” — which speaks all too starkly of frustration, even outright embitterment. But such a voice she had! I’ll miss her.

  29. Rich Leib on October 27, 2021 at 12:46 am

    I still feel like we never got the official word of how she died. When she sadly passed away the articles all said she asked that the cause would not be disclosed until one week after she died. But I never heard another thing about it. I see you said suffered from two types of cancer but I don’t know if this was the cause of death. She was one of my favorites so I would like to know if there is any info . Thanks

    • Beth Marie on July 30, 2022 at 4:18 pm

      She died of cancer complications. Specific details of her final weeks …. why does it matter?

  30. Martin Paulson on October 27, 2021 at 1:17 pm

    Let’s be frank, it’s a badge of honor in many cases to be under-appreciated/misunderstood by the mainstream/Nashville/commercial radio whatever.
    If it were otherwise, we wouldn’t be missing her so much.

    And, to be straight up, seems Nanci lost her voice after he cancer bout(s), and, naturally, pulled away and was miserable about that.

    But, she’s free from all that now, and soaring somewhere.

  31. Beth Wilson on October 29, 2021 at 7:03 pm

    I, too, followed Nanci from back in the eighties. I can still see her singing ‘Love at the 5 and Dime’ at many venues across the UK. I can still hear her gorgeous voice finishing with, ‘Going Up’… It breaks my heart that she was never truly appreciated. She had every right to be as fierce with critics as has been alleged. “Syphallitic parasitics” as the late, great John Prine puts it. I will miss her…

  32. Brooks Sautner-Mock on November 4, 2021 at 5:34 am

    Mr. Gewertz, your article is nothing less than phenomenal to me. My thanks to you and everyone who has taken time to express their thoughts about Nanci Griffith.
    Each of the comments have lent something to the feelings that I’ve not been able to get out. I find myself perusing the internet
    for an article or song clip to help keep me stay in the realm of Nanci’s just awhile longer.
    Words such as yours and the others a
    are truly helping me now process my own sadness at the loss of this lovely human.
    Thank you so much.
    Brooks Sautner-Mock, RN

    • Daniel Gewertz on February 21, 2022 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks so much, Brooks. I’m pleased it hit the spot at the right moment of your search for good words about Nanci.

  33. Roger Skillman on November 7, 2021 at 8:51 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article about Nanci Griffith. I discovered her music in the late 80’s and became an instant fan. It was very sad news to hear of her passing. Luckily, my favorite radio station WNCW periodically plays her music. After reading your article and related comments, her story always seems to be at the “almost” phase. Which is a shame due to her talent as a singer-songwriter. Thank you again for your article.

  34. Renee on November 11, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute. She was such an amazing singer songwriter and I was so very sad to hear of her passing. Been a huge fan of hers since the early 90’s and was so grateful to be able to see her perform last at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2012 (along with John Prine, and other amazing artists that year.) I’ll be playing her records and wishing her eternal peace.

  35. Jacqueline Hefley on November 12, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    I have loved Nanci Griffith since the early 80’s, and over the years I would pull out a CD and reconnect. A few years ago, it was with “Winter Marquee.” It is a great live album, with songs that sounded better than originally recorded — a feat not always achieved, and it had me digging out my entire collection. You so eloquently capture Nanci, her music, her contradictions, that I won’t belabor you with a point by point acknowledgment of all that resonates with me; you articulate in ways I can’t, and I thank you for this piece.

    My world felt a bit diminished when Nanci died. Though she was no longer recording, I was happy she existed somewhere, and I hoped she was happy, too. She could write, and she could sing, and my heart is still moved by her talent all these years later.

    Thanks again.

    • Daniel Gewertz on February 21, 2022 at 6:01 pm

      Thank you for those words, Jacqueline. For some reason your note here makes me remember a time, way back in the mid ’80s, when a music associate of mine left a phone message for me. She was having drinks with Nanci that evening in Harvard Square, on a weekend Nanci was playing Passim in Cambridge… and said Nanci wanted to have me join them. But I got in way too late! By the next year, she was a much bigger star, playing Berklee Performance Center, and the chance for a drink did not occur again!

      • Flo on May 20, 2022 at 8:53 pm

        How very sad, Daniel, that you came so close to meeting Nanci but it didn’t happen. I hope her family has seen this lovely tribute to Nanci that you wrote.

        On another note, I’d love to see your Elvis Presley imitation. Do you have a video of it you could share?

  36. Tom Russell on November 28, 2021 at 10:06 am

    Dear Mr. Gewertz: Thank you so very much for this wonderful article. Nanci was a treasure to many, myself included. I had the absolute privilege of meeting her when my wife and I posed as reporters and snuck into a press conference for the Landmine Relief concert tour she did with John Prine, Steve Earle, Bruce Cockburn and Mary Chapin Carpenter. The other “reporters” were asking rather stoic questions to the assembled artists when I finally summoned up the courage to speak. It was pretty obvious to Nanci (and all others) that I was not a reporter, but rather a diehard fan who could barely contain his excitement. I asked her a question about “If Wishes Were Changes” and I don’t even remember her reply but it must have resonated because following the press conference she was happy to have a chat and then take a picture with me and my wife which I will treasure always. Thank you for your kindness Nanci, the wing and the wheel carried you right into our hearts.

  37. Chris on November 30, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    The Flyer Album has/is/always will be in my playlist rotation. I was able to see her twice in San Francisco she was remarkably. A true story teller that always drew me in…..

  38. Lorna McCarthy on December 29, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    December 28th, 2021. Just found out five minutes ago about Nanci’s death as someone mentioned it on radio in the UK.

    Sitting here in tears as I loved her and her music. I’ve seen her around 15 times at least here in the UK. Just looking at all the albums I have all but 3. I loved her strong, sweet but vulnerable voice and her LBJ pin on her guitar.

    She preached love and peace, sang about Texas (from a UK perspective), mentioning many place names. When she told a joke she mentioned “west Texas humour” as if no-one else could really understand. I loved to hear her stories and she made me laugh.

    Her songs make me cry because I can hear the pain behind her voice, and see her vulnerability. I knew nothing of her own tragedies. However, she was politically forthright and intuitively strong.

    At one of her shows I felt really low, as I was living with depression. When she had the audience lights turned on for From A Distance, I swear that night she smiled at me in the second row. I was crying. Whether she did or not, it made a difference to me that night.

    The world of music has lost a brightly shining light, way too soon.

    RIP Nanci.

  39. Bob Jones on December 31, 2021 at 3:02 pm

    I’ve been gobbling up any and all articles about Nanci for over four months now, so I was surprised to stumble into this one for the first time today. Google works in mysterious ways.

    Anyway, this one puts every other remembrance into the “other” bin. It did me good to read the words of someone else who loved Nanci with such depth. And these comments!

    Don’t we all wish someone would reissue her albums? Thank goodness for the availability of used CDs. My collection is growing and it is slowly dawning on me that I will someday have them all. In the meantime, YouTube is a treasure trove.

  40. Janet Feld on January 11, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Incredible tribute to an amazing artist. Thanks so much Dan

  41. Bob Edgar on January 12, 2022 at 9:49 pm

    January 12, 2022. Reading a story on the passing of folksinger/songwriter Bill Staines. I learned for the first time of the passing of Nanci Griffith back in August. I am stunned almost to tears.
    I learned of Bill because of Nanci mentioning him on One Fair Summer Evening.
    I first found Nanci back in the mid eighties while delivering news papers in the middle of the night listening to folk programing on college radio. I instantly fell in love with her voice and she will always be my favorite female singer/songwriter/song selecter of all-time.
    Only was able to see her live on one occasion in Lakewood Ohio back in September of 2001. It was a beautiful show and l drove home that night on a high brought on by what I was so privileged to witness. Woke up the next morning feeling the same way and went to work in Oberlin, Ohio. I was still thinking of the concert the night before when shortly after 9:00 a.m. cryptic reports started coming over the radio about things happening in New York City. I don’t need to go into what those reports ultimately turned out to become but I will always feel cheated, no, robbed of the afterglow of a wonderful evening getting to see my favorite female artist perform her beautiful songs in person. The afterglow disappeared very quickly but my love for Nanci Griffith and her music will live on in me for ever and ever.
    So the news of her passing came through the news of the passing of Bill Staines. In the end the news of their leaving us reminds me of the passing John Stewart, another of my favorites about this time of year back in 2008.
    May you all Rest In Peace, Nanci, Bill and John. I love you all and thank you for giving us your gifts of music.

    • Flo on May 20, 2022 at 9:57 pm

      Bob, you shouldn’t feel “robbed of the afterglow of a wonderful evening” because of 911 happening the next morning. You should be thankful 911 didn’t happen one day earlier which would have caused the concert to be cancelled.
      I’m late to the Nanci Griffith fan club, only first hearing about her recently. I wish I had been aware of her back when she was touring so I could have been at one of her concerts.
      I’m sure you consider yourself lucky to have seen her in person.

  42. Marjorie Millner on February 6, 2022 at 1:02 am

    Thank you for this article. This is the most comprehensive and compassionate remembrance of Nanci that I have seen. I found it tonight as I googled to see if her cause of death had ever been released. (It hasn’t, as far as I can find out. I felt a bit tacky wanting to know, but I did.) Not sure if I would have found this remembrance otherwise, and I’m now letting go the need to know exactly how she met her end, and instead enjoying her life’s work. I searched tonight because I am watching a concert filmed in Glasgow last week, part of Celtic Connections, called “Scotland Sings Nanci Griffith.” I hope some of Nanci’s fans who have posted here will see my post and find some comfort in knowing that she is missed across the pond as well as here, and that Scotland has done her the honor of celebrating her songs by dedicating an evening of their yearly Celtic Connections festival to her music. By the way, the video of the concert is only available until Wednesday, February 9, 2022, but I bet at least parts of it will show up on YouTube eventually.

    • Daniel Gewertz on February 21, 2022 at 5:51 pm

      Good to read your words, Marjorie. I was aware that Nanci had a hard time in life revealing private history. Her songs were fictional artistic revelation. And were about many other lives, as well, both real and imagined. But in between songs she would talk about her life, as “talk-ups,” and there would be infrequent times I knew to be a fictionalization. When she talked, at long last, about her former husband, a drug-addicted Vietnam vet, for example, it was a breakthrough for her. I recall her saying onstage, almost as a brag, that he was the only singer-songwriter she ever made love with. I knew that was not true. But little fibs onstage was her way to keep safer, to keep the private life public as an artist but still not frontally and frightfully exposed. Yes, it was less than honest, but it allowed her to get up there and sing out her real self, so what’s the harm?

  43. Jim J on February 8, 2022 at 3:39 pm

    I was truly saddened at the passing of Nanci. She was a truly gifted artist. One thing about her voice: once one got accustomed to it, one could denote the honesty of it. I got the chance to perform one of her earlier songs at a public gathering and mentioned her passing. I guess that performing her songs is the best way of honoring her.

  44. Jeff Douglas on February 14, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    I first saw (and heard) Nanci on Austin City Limits around 1984. I was blown away! She came to Folk City a couple of years later, and I went with my friend Jackie. We walked in and were greeted by Jackie’s cousin Christine Lavin who introduced us to Nanci who was as gracious as can be. I believe she played solo that night, and I made it my business to try and see her every time she came to NYC.
    Thanks for the wonderful reflections of a truly special artist.

    • Daniel Gewertz on February 21, 2022 at 5:31 pm

      Thanks for the note, Jeff. I was a journalist friend of the Fast Folk crowd, and Christine most especially. Also Suzanne Vega, John Gorka, Rod MacDonald, Shawn Colvin, David Massingill, Richard Meyer and so many others, including, of course, the late Jack Hardy and Tom Intondi. A rare scene, self-generating, artistry at the center.

  45. Judith Ann Sigmund on February 18, 2022 at 11:44 pm

    Thank you, Daniel, for what has been the most thorough and most balanced remembrance of Ms. Griffith that I have read thus far. I remember first hearing Nanci Griffith in 1981 when I was a young and uncertain old time claw hammer banjo player freshly located to Knoxville, TN. Living alone on the outskirts of town and finding myself friendless, I turned on the radio and discovered the Laurel Theater and what was on was one of their Mountain Jubilee Hours or other great radio shows. It was a live concert of Nanci Griffith, right there in the Laurel Theater, brought into my two room house in the dark of a Tennessee winter on a farm on Proffitts Road in Maryville. The phone wires hadn’t been connected yet to the little newly painted shack, but I had a radio. She was only two years older than me but much more advanced than me musically. I found her an inspiration as a musician and as a woman, as back then I felt some backlash as a woman trying to be a musician in my own right. I thought the musician guys I hung around with wanted me more as an audience than as a collaborator. I appreciated her strength and the emotions she let out as well, and Daniel, I think your overview of her life and work conveys some of these forces she may have come up against as well in all their complexities, and I appreciate the work you put into making this piece so complete.

    • Daniel Gewertz on February 21, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks, Judith Ann. It was lovely seeing your comments so many months after my September article. That is a sublime image: in your lonely Knoxville abode, with no phone connection, hearing Griffith’s voice come through the radio, linking you to not just a fine talent but a kindred soul.

  46. Nancy Lynn Goldberg on February 24, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    I plopped a Nanci Griffith CD in my car radio/ player this morn, and immediately started crying. Her music has always touched me, and possibly, more so now that she is gone. When I came home, I googled, and here I am. I am an old Globie and Herald staffer and assume I was made aware of her by my Globe writer pals. Saw her a few times in concert and have no idea why I didn’t go to her 2012 concert at the Wilbur. I have the unused ticket on my bulletin board. Your article is filled with so much I did not know. Thank you. I am truly saddened by her struggles…. both physical and emotional, and can’t fathom why she wasn’t a ‘mega’ star. She certainly was for me.

  47. Ellen on March 7, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    Thank you for such an eloquent and tender tribute to a complicated woman. I just yesterday re-watched on demand the ACL tribute, and shed more than a few tears. Nanci’s music, like other fine artists, doesn’t fit the country radio mold, and increasingly, that’s a good thing. The focus on Americana music has come to late for too many whose intelligent lyrics could be short stories.

  48. Carin Coleman on March 9, 2022 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you for this article on Nanci Griffith. She was a such a beautiful, honest, melancholy (and hopeful) voice of love, light, truth- both hard and lovely all at the same time. She had such a unique way of putting things with great wit. Always uncontrollably laughing out loud & forced to think deeper when listening to her…so thankful I found her when I was young. Don’t remember exactly how I found her, but seems like she’s always “been around” in my life. Even the stories I couldn’t completely relate to, I could learn and feel what she sang about. Always still makes me laugh and cry listening to her music, vocals and stories. They connect and touch deeply to my core. So many examples…”Listen to the Radio” just MAKES ME HAPPY!! Didn’t realize she had passed (being in the “mom bubble” with young children) until one of my boys’ teachers (very young herself) recently used “Trouble in our Fields” as an example when teaching about The Great Depression. I think she would be happy and humbled to know her legacy will live on forever in so many ways…from the simple pleasure of incredible & lasting great “folkabilly” music to educating the next generations. One of the greatest tributes we can give is to keep sharing her and her stories/music that teach love and life from a perspective mixed with humor & grit…relatable and valuable no matter how old you are or where you’re from. Thankful I can share her with others, especially my children- appreciate her “voice” in my life and theirs!

    • Tim on April 5, 2022 at 8:24 pm

      Before she started making music full time, Nanci was a school teacher (just for one year, I think). But my guess is she would be delighted to know that Trouble in the Fields is being used in classrooms.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 14, 2023 at 12:01 pm

      It’s nice to think of kids getting to hear Nanci Griffith in the 21st century classroom. So glad to read that you belatedly came across my tribute to her.

  49. Tim Palmer Curl on April 5, 2022 at 8:35 pm

    I only came upon this article this evening, when I had Nanci on my mind. So grateful I found it. The comments and remembrances have enriched the article itself. How good it is to read the memories of so many fans.

    I agree with the commenters who consider this among the best tributes to Nanci. I learned from it, but more important is that I felt in the company of another true Nanci Griffith fan.

    I first saw Nanci perform (at the invitation of a friend, named Nancy) at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin in the late 80s. I have no idea how many times I saw her live after that — in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Boston, New York, Kerrville. One of those performances, at the Paramount Theater in Austin, was for her video of Other Voices, Other Rooms. What a night that was.

    If I might mention another of her often-overlooked recordings, it’s her cover of Jimmy Webb’s “If These Old Walls Could Speak.” The song was Nanci’s contribution to Kathy Mattea’s AIDS benefit project, Red Hot + Country. Together, Nanci and Jimmy so captured my childhood that I quoted the song in my father’s eulogy.

    Thanks, everyone, and thanks Daniel Gewertz, for sharing your touching memories of one of music’s best.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 14, 2023 at 11:51 am

      I’m thankful I finally read your touching comment on my article. It is not surprising that I can still capture in my mind Nanci’s unique voice, more clearly and fully than the voices of any other singer.

  50. Robin Bugbee on April 12, 2022 at 9:44 pm

    It has been a hard time realizing that there will be no more. Nanci was such a generous soul. I think you have to be to send so much wonderful music out into the air. I loved her work. It went right to the heart of me and stuck around. It had weight and it was joyous but tinged with sadness. During those years when I don’t think she was doing well and her output stopped…I always hoped she would find new energy and rise once more! I followed her for years and knew that a second burst of inspired songs was unlikely but I kept hoping. She was real. She was sincere. And she showed the pain that a life on the road and constant touring brings. I will miss her the way a dying man misses the air and she will always be with us. Years from now, when I am gone, I am quite sure she will be thought of with tears of sadness, tears of joy and great thanks for the wonderful gifts she gave us all.

  51. Tess Thompson on April 27, 2022 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you for this tribute and for allowing the comments. I’ve felt great comfort reading how others loved her and are grieving her. I learned of her death at that remembrance thing they do at the Grammys (watching with my teenage daughter) and gasped out loud when I saw her photo and name as having passed. I had no idea she died back in August. I know this will sound silly but I can’t believe I didn’t sense her death. Her music shaped my writing (I write fiction) and my soul and just everything in my life. She inspired me to be an artist and to tell my stories. I always felt that she knew me and I knew her. It’s such a strange thing to say but it’s true. I felt like I let her down that I didn’t know right away that she’d passed For weeks now, I can’t stop thinking about her and grieving her like I would a friend.

    I can’t seem to shake this feeling of desolation about her death. I’ve never felt this way after a person I didn’t know passed on. I suppose it’s what the others have said–her music made us all feel as if we knew the inner workings of her heart. But I can’t seem to justify in my mind how a person who brought so much beauty to the world is gone. I’m struggling with the idea that she was bitter about her career too. Like, how could she when she gave us so much? It seems clear she never understood what she meant to those of us who listen to music like we breathe air. Those of us who have no talent for music but love it with every part of our beings. She was the sweetest of all air.

    I saw her in concert many times: L.A., Seattle, Portland. I actually saw her Flyer concert twice. Once in Seattle and then the next night in Portland. I can see her standing on the stage in Portland as the opening notes of Flyer began. She was so beautiful with just her guitar under the lights. I’ll think of her that way always.

    One more thing that I have to share…the night after I learned she was gone I listened to Daddy Said a few times with a new pair of fancy headphones. Daddy Said is one of my favorites. I can remember listening to it over and over when I was a college student in the late eighties. I would sing along in my bad voice. However, all those times I listened to the lyrics I thought her father’s advice was, “You’ll never get BY living alone.” For the first time I heard the lyric correctly. Maybe because of my new headphones? “You’ll never get tired a living alone.” This fact is haunting me. I know, I’m a weirdo clearly! But knowing what the real lyric is has saddened me more than I can say.

    Anyway…thanks for writing about her in such an inspired, insightful, loving way. You’ve helped a lot of us to grieve. Thanks for letting me share all this in the comments too. I feel better. XO Tess

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 14, 2023 at 11:46 am

      Thank you so much for writing these poignant paragraphs. I stopped reading the comments section after the year 2021, so I just discovered your beautiful, elegant comment.

  52. Dee on May 20, 2022 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you for your BEAUTIFUL music, Nanci.
    “Lone Star State of Mind” got me through living in Denver (of all places!) till I could get back HOME to TEXAS!

    You are greatly missed & will ALWAYS be remembered as our Native Daughter & Songbird from Texas.

    God Bless You.

  53. Daniel Rodriguez on June 3, 2022 at 10:45 am

    How did I miss Nanci? I’ve been a fan of the “lyrics” for all of my life. When in the early 80s they seemed to have ceased to exist I moved back to the 50s, 60s and 70s. I’ve been there ever since. Recently I came across There’s a Light Beyond these Woods…Now I’ve listened to Nanci non stop for two months. Close in age, she and I walked the same time-space. How did I miss her? How sad to be able to walk through someone’s life work in a few hours knowing they are already gone. How on earth did I miss Nanci?

    • Beth Pennings on June 21, 2022 at 10:43 pm

      I’m asking the same question. I knew she hadn’t recorded in a while but had no idea of the back story. This article dates her loss back to 2006. In August 2005 I heard her in concert at the Fargo Theatre in Fargo, ND. The same week I heard Natalie McMaster at the same theatre. She had just played at Peter Jennings’ funeral. Those two concerts go down as the best two I’d ever heard. (Now, this many years later, I’d have to put John Prine and Iris DeMent) in the same place. I’m so sad that her life was hard. I loved her music, have 14 of her albums and that concert in Aug of 2005 was pure joy.

  54. Mick on July 8, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you for this. Wonderful. Saw her some years back in the UK. Feel happy and sad after reading this. But that’s it isn’t it?

  55. Keith on November 28, 2022 at 5:49 pm

    I have read all of the above and am gratified to read that most people feel the same way about Nanci as i do. I discovered her at Leeds University in UK in 1988 or 1989 and was hooked from there on in. She was singing her ‘Little Love Affairs’ songs and she was enthralling. She seemed confident but shy at the same time.

    Since that time I made it a point to go to as many shows as i could when she was in the UK and was enthralled each time. She had a presence and was thoughtful to her ‘Blue Moon Orchestra’. As well as the wonderful emotive songs that she wrote she introduced me to many songs and artists I have since followed. Kate Wolf being one of them.
    I always thought she would get over what was ailing her and was so saddened to read of her death. Other people have said it much better above but I was very happy to have found her and kept her to myself all these years.
    She will be much missed in my house. God bless her for being.

  56. Dorothy Chin on December 31, 2022 at 1:08 am

    I’m just reading this now as I’m watching an Austin City Limits show piecing together Nanci’s best (Dec 2022). Thank you for this. I’m saddened by the allusions to her loneliness and feelings of being under-appreciated. It seems to me that Nanci never grasped how wide her audience was and how many people her music did touch. Talent and soul like that will always find their audience. I only saw her perform live once, at the Wiltern in Los Angeles in the 1990’s. I had forgotten that I already held tickets to see Cesaria Evora that night when I purchased tickets for her concert. I chose to see Nanci. Her songs were short stories and her singing often made me cry tears of grief and empathy. She was truly heads above the rest.

  57. Michael Clifford on December 31, 2022 at 4:03 am

    Thanks for including the video, as I listened to it while reading all of these wonderful comments. Truly, time well spent.

  58. Pau Miller on April 15, 2023 at 5:47 pm

    We were already fans when we saw the inimitable Nanci Griffith at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1986. Live, her stylings created constant goose-flesh and her beautiful soul enveloped us all. We miss her.

  59. Jen on April 26, 2023 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute, easily the best I have read. I am so glad to see you note those lyrics from Daddy Said, one of my own favorites. I do think living alone, as a source of sadness but also of solace, was one of Nanci’s great unsung themes. Thinking here also of Late Night Grande Hotel: “Living alone is all I’ve ever done well…” I would like to put in a word for the oft-neglected (and hard to find) Poet in My Window. Even if it doesn’t reach the peaks of Blue Moon, there are still some wonderful songs on there: You Can’t Go Home Again, Wheels, October Reasons. Thank you again! She is sorely missed.

  60. Jim Watson on April 28, 2023 at 7:48 pm

    Saw her only once—at the Woodlands when she was touring in support of Other Voices. That record introduced me to Kate Wolf, Townes, Tom Russell and others. It changed my life. We’re lucky to live close to Houston and to see much wonderful music there,
    One Fair Summer Evening is an incredible record. Anderson Fair is an incredible place.
    We’re lucky to have had Nanci.

  61. Shaylin Anderson on May 5, 2023 at 2:01 am

    Every so often since August 2021, I Google Nanci just to see if there’s been anything new written about her, or if maybe the big question has been answered. Every time I do, this article ends up among the results. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it – but, it’s definitely more than a few. It’s the only one that I read again & again, in its entirety, because it is just so beautifully written. It does everything a great elegy (for lack of a better word) should do…transports me to another time, lulls an unexpected smile, squeezes my heart, and leaves me in unmitigated agreement, with one final, deep sigh. She certainly was lovely.

    Thank you for memorializing her in all the ways she deserves to be remembered; for her kindness, her passion, her charm, & her sometimes deeply flawed humanity…though, that’s what has always made her so relatable. The world feels a little smaller & less colorful just knowing she’s not in it….but having this reminder of how much she left us is a gift all its own, too.

    • Daniel Gewertz on September 17, 2023 at 11:23 am

      Thank you so much for your words. Griffith was one of my favorite artists to write about, interview, review, and it was an honor to write an appreciation that strikes her dearest fan as an elegy. She loved using the simple word heart, and she left an indelible mark on ours.

  62. Mike C on August 14, 2023 at 9:01 pm

    I just found out she died today.8.14.23 – I am so sad beyond words. I saw her 8 times live in concert and I can only think of the songs she left me. Julie Anne and West Texas Sun drip off my lips.. goodbye my sweet Nanci.

  63. John McCann, Doylestown, PA on November 19, 2023 at 10:15 pm

    I’m a cynical 76-year disabled Vietnam vet who was a 1-A-0 conscientious objector and served there for almost 11 months as a field medic . I haven’t viewed anyone as a hero for a very long time now.

    Then I found Nanci’s music about four months ago. To be honest, as a male, what caught me first was her unadorned beauty. She was sexy beyond account. Only after that did I really hear her music and stories her lyrics told. Since then, I have tried to listen to all of her songs, watch all of her videos and learn as much about her life and values. Her life had tons of turmoil and sadness, starting with her parent’s divorce and the loss of her first (and only love???) love, John.

    She led a heroic life, in my view: fighting cancers, the music industry, personal and career disappointments, and the sheer fatigue of always being on the road. (Given the 400% increase in the rate of thyroid cancer in Vietnam caused by our use of Agent Orange-type toxins, her cancer may have its roots in her visits there.)

    She was a pacifist who spoke out against those wars but never against the men and women sent to fight them.

    May she rest in peace with her John.

    • Daniel Gewertz on December 13, 2023 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks for your good words about Nanci and my article. I’ve written again about Nanci this week, specifically about the fantastic tribute album put together by over a dozen of her musical friends. A sensational record. Title: “More Than a Whisper.” It interested to me that you thought of Nanci first off as sexy, because the Nashville suits openly complained about her lack of sex appeal! Nanci went to Vietnam and nearby lands long after the war, as part of her working in the plight to rid the world of landmine shells. By the way, her ex-husband was a Vietnam war veteran, Eric Taylor, who brought home his drug addiction. I believe the marriage lasted from 1978 to 1982.

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