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A Big Beautiful Heart”: Music Lovers Mourn The Death Of Nanci Griffith, Grammy-Winning Folk Singer

A Big Beautiful Heart”: Music Lovers Mourn The Death Of Nanci Griffith, Grammy-Winning Folk Singer

Nanci Griffith, whose album Other Voices, Other Rooms won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, died on Friday, as reported by the Associated Press. The Texas-born singer-songwriter with the high-pitched twang sang about small-town life as part of the softer side of the Americana movement in the early 1990s. Her management company did not provide a cause of death. She was 68 years old.

Griffith was born in Seguin, Texas, not far from San Antonio, and moved up to Austin as a child. She began writing songs at 12 and was inspired by her early exposure to a live Townes Van Zandt performance. After studying at the University of Texas, she worked as a kindergarten teacher. Still, she continued playing clubs, running in the same circles as Lucinda Williams, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Lyle Lovett. She released four albums on small labels, including The Last of the True Believers, which featured the quintessential Nanci Griffith song, “Love at the Five and Dime.” It became a massive hit for country artist Kathy Mattea when she covered it. 

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In 1985, Griffith moved to Nashville and signed with MCA. Her first major label album, Lone Star State of Mind, included the first recording of Julie Gold’s song From A Distance, which later became a runaway success (and Grammy-winning Song of the Year) when recorded by Bette Midler.

As Griffith continued her recording career, she collaborated with a number of highly regarded musicians, including banjo player Béla Fleck, percussionist Russ Kunkel, and vocalist Lucy Kaplansky. She also dueted with Phil Everly. Her 1989 album Storms was produced by Glyn Johns, best known for working with massive rock acts like The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Eric Clapton. Her 1991 album Late Night Grande Hotel was co-produced by Rod Argent of the classic rock band Argent. Both albums expanded her sound with crossover “adult contemporary” appeal.

Then came Other Voices, Other Rooms, named for the Truman Capote novel. It featured 17 songs sang by her and composed by other songwriters, including Woody Guthrie, Janis Ian, Townes Van Zandt, Harry Belafonte, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, and more. Collaborators were a who’s who of the scene and included Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Chet Atkins, Guy Clark, Iris DeMent, Leo Kottke, Indigo Girls, Carolyn Hester, and Odetta. Even Dylan himself played harmonica on “Boots of Spanish Leather.”

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Griffith’s follow-up album Flyer counter-balanced the covers in Other Voices, Other Rooms with 14 originals, 13 of which she wrote or co-wrote herself. (She worked with Julie Gold, a previous collaborator of hers.) The album was co-produced by R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, and session musicians included Mark Knopfler and the rhythm section of U2.


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