Songwriter and Performer Nanci Griffith Has Died
Singer, performer, guitarist, and songwriter Nanci Griffith who was known for her foundational influence on Texas music, and for contributing greatly to the Americana community in Nashville passed away on Friday, August 13th at the age of 68. Representatives at Gold Mountain Entertainment announced her death, saying, “It was Nanci’s wish that no further formal statement or press release happen for a week following her passing.”
Known for her appearances on programs such as Austin City Limits, her duets with artists such as John Prine, and the hit songs she penned for others, Nanci Griffith was a cherished member of the music community whose influences spanned from independent folk to mainstream country. Kathy Mattea had a Top 5 hit with Griffith’s “Love at the Five and Dime” in 1986, and Suzy Bogguss scored a Top 10 hit with “Outbound Plane” penned by Griffith and Tom Russell.
Born in Seguin, Texas on July 6th, 1953, Nanci Caroline Griffith was the youngest of three children to parents she characterized as beatniks. The family moved to Austin shortly after her birth, and her parents divorced in 1960. Nanci’s father was a fan of traditional folk music, and introduced Nanci early on to Carolyn Hester. Then when she was 14, Griffith saw Townes Van Zandt play, and she knew what she wanted to do with her life.
By the mid 70’s, Nanci Griffith was playing her original songs and cover tunes in local clubs around Austin, including a now legendary Sunday night residency at the Hole in the Wall near the University of Texas campus. She was considered the first accomplished songwriter to play the room that would subsequently attract Townes Van Zandt and others, and is still around today. Griffith began touring the United States, sometimes with a band, and sometimes solo, and released her first album There’s A Light Beyond These Woods in 1978.
Soon the mystique of Nanci Griffith caught on in songwriter circles, and she became a living legend in Austin. In 1985 she played her first Austin City Limits episode with lifelong friend Lyle Lovett singing backup for her, and by 1987 she was signed to MCA and released her major label debut Lone Star State of Mind. Though Griffith would never really catch on commercially, her critical acclaimed continued to mount.
One of her first major label singles was “From A Distance,” written by her friend Julie Gold. It received some traction, but not nearly the success the song would receive when Bette Midler recorded it in 1990. Finding success with more literary folk material inspired many of Griffith’s contemporaries to stick to their guns, and not give into the commercial influences of major labels in the burgeoning Americana scene.
Now living in Nashville, Griffith did try to give launching more pop-oriented folk and country singles a go while signed to MCA, but when she moved to Elektra in 1993 and released an album consisting of all cover songs from songwriters who influenced her called Other Voices, Other Rooms, it landed her a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Her backing band, The Blue Moon Orchestra, also became legendary in folk and Americana circles.
Nanci Griffith was diagnosed with breast Cancer in 1996, and then thyroid Cancer in 1998, both of which she beat while continuing to record for Elektra. Now settled in Nashville, she turned bitter about her time in Texas, and rebuffed any criticism she received for some of her late career efforts, once sending a strongly-worded letter to numerous publications in the Lone Star State saying in part,
“There has always been a certain amount of pathos within artists who leave their sacred bountiful homes of birth for the benefit of preserving their own belief in their art—especially in cases such as my own where my native soil that I have so championed around this globe has done its best to choke whatever dignity I carried within me.”
Griffith released a couple of records on Rounder in the aughts, and the Americana Music Association bestowed her with a deserved Americana Trailblazer Award in 2008. After Griffith’s final album Intersection in 2012, she had mostly disappeared from the public spotlight. She was always particular with the way she was portrayed in the press, often writing letters to critics or others who said things about her music she found unflattering. It seems fitting that she considered how her death would be reported, and made provisions ahead of time.
In many ways Nanci Griffith was an enigma. And though she never received the wide acceptance from the public her music deserved—or perhaps that she desired—there are few within the folk and Americana community who wouldn’t sing her praises, or cite her lasting influence.
August 13, 2021 @ 2:11 pm
Such a beautiful voice and a passionate soul gone way too soon. Her version of “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” is one of my favorites.
August 15, 2021 @ 2:42 pm
Nanci. Was lovley.. IRISH CULTURAL CENTER OF NEW ENGLAND IN CANTON MASSACHUSETTS..FEW years ago at BIG SUMMER FESTIVAL SHE WAS GEORGIOUS BESIDES KEEPING THE AUDIENCE SPELLBOUNED..ALANA ROCKLAND HER BAND PLAYER TOO DELIVERED BESIDES STRING GUTAR PLAYER FR THE BLACK FOREST OF GERMANY…
SHE SPOKE OF IRELAND. NORTH AND SOUTH..WROTE, SANG SONGS ABOUT DAYS OF CONFLICT. TURNING UGLY HEAD AWAY..TO ” THE LIGHT” OF RECONCILLIATION AND PEACE.
FOREVERMORE..BEING ONE CHRISTMAS IN FEATHER FALL TWINKELING LIGHT SNOW ON GRAFTON ST..IN DUBLIN..RUNNING INTO SINGER FRANCES BLACK & FRIENDSHIP WITH BRILLIANT IRISH SONG WRITTER JIMMY MC CARTHY. GOD BLESS HER NOBLE GIVING SOUL, AND ALL WHOM SHE LOVED..LOVED HER TOO.. I WILL SOON LOOK AT THAT AMATURE BUT LOVELY CONCERT VIDEO . REST IN PEACE IN ARMS OF THE ANGELS..
August 13, 2021 @ 2:15 pm
Such a tragedy……..such a loss of an incredible talent, there are no words………..
August 13, 2021 @ 2:16 pm
Thanks for writing this— it’s much more informative than the obits published by A.P. And The Guardian. The main reason I regularly read this site is for coverage of subject matter like this— an appreciation of the history of country and roots music.
I saw Nanci perform half a dozen times at Telluride, at Hardly Strictly, and at NYC’s Bottom Line and Town Hall, among other places. My favorite albums of hers were a live one from 1988, One Fair Summer Morning, where the humor of her song intros is especially endearing, and her 1993 folk anthology, Other Voices, Other Rooms, which contains memorable harmony vocals from Arlo, Emmylou, Lucinda, Guy Clark, Odetta, John Prine, and others.
P.S. Griffith had been married for a while to the excellent late singer songwriter, Eric Taylor, and co-wrote Ghost in the Music with him, a song they both recorded which I’m going to dig out and listen to, and then I’ll play her duet with John Prine on Speed in the Sound of Loneliness. RIP to one of the authentic voices.
August 13, 2021 @ 3:59 pm
Rest in peace, NG.
She was one of the great songwriters and singers. I loved her so much, starting with FLYER in 1994 and then falling in love with her whole catalogue. I personally really love her 2nd album POET IN MY WINDOW and the towering awesomeness of the perfect live record ONE FAIR SUMMER EVENING. Nanci Griffith was very enigmatic, and outspoken, and unique and extremely talented and full of so much heart and soul. For Anderson Fair and the light beyond these woods, bless her heart.
August 24, 2021 @ 12:27 am
I’m a progressive person, but even I have to admit that sometimes the Guardian is full of it on issues, and can sometimes get things wrong.
Sad to hear about the death of this authentic lady country singer; hopefully, her music will live on.
August 13, 2021 @ 2:43 pm
Nanci Griffith along with Steve Earle are the first artists I really got into in Americana/Texas music. Her album “Other Voices, Other Rooms” is still one of my favorite Americana albums with “Last of the True Believers” right behind that one.
August 13, 2021 @ 3:12 pm
I think I saw her with Steve Earle and a few other artists (Emmylou Harris) at a land mine benefit concert at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall on Pitt’s campus when I was a student there in 1999.
August 16, 2021 @ 8:24 am
I agree. When I heard this news I listened to “Across the Great Divide” from that album. I looked at the mountain near my home and raised a glass to Nanci, and thanked her.
August 13, 2021 @ 2:54 pm
I can never keep her and Patty Griffin straight.
August 13, 2021 @ 7:50 pm
That’s terrible dude. And I did the same when reading the headline…
August 15, 2021 @ 5:59 am
She was extremely popular in Ireland and the United Kingdom I saw her several times in the latter, and she always referred to Ireland in her introductions : it was going through some extended ‘troubles’ at the time. I think she was a major artist in her capacity to tell stories and create characters in her songs. They are always individuals, her voices, and she never patronises them. I suspect she will be one of those artist musicians whose reputations will grow after their deaths. (Tom Petty is another – a more serious artist than you realised at the time).
August 16, 2021 @ 3:49 am
Lovely lady. Beautiful voice. Loved her songs. Favorite being where she has gone. I THINK I’LL GO TO HEAVEN! Angels will appreciate her joining the choir!
August 14, 2021 @ 12:51 am
August 17, 2021 @ 8:47 am
I just loved Nanci , such an amazing talent , beautiful songs and arrangements , an incredible authentic voice …with the angels I’m sure x
August 19, 2021 @ 5:40 pm
Then you know little about their music. Entirely different. Griffith’s legacy, I believe, will be as one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters, up there with the very best of them. I don’t think Griffin is in the same elite category. I hope Nanci died knowing that she will be re-discovered, generation after generation, and that some day, she’ll be fully recognized as the American treasure she is.
August 13, 2021 @ 2:55 pm
Bertran de Born
August 13, 2021 @ 3:25 pm
No matter how removed they may be from the public eye, songwriters such as Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, and others somehow maintain a personal voice throughout their work, so much so that it feels as though we know them somehow. That’s certainly the case with Nanci, who released a string of consistently brilliant music from, I’d say, 1978 through 1994. That’s a pretty good run for any artist. Songs like “There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret),” “Love at the Five and Dime,” “Trouble in the Fields,” and “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go” seem to radiate with intelligence and humanity, characteristics she no doubt carried in real life. I kind of lost sight of her after Other Voices, Too, but the songs mentioned, and others beside, are worth their weight in gold to me and played as important a part in my musical education as Guy, Townes, John Prine, and Steve Young. I miss ’em all.
August 15, 2021 @ 3:05 pm
Oh no. Nanci and her music are so beautiful, only a select group can see and appreciate her stories and song. It would be too crude to be noticed and pawed at by the whole world. Nanci is
loved by those who dance in her lyrics at the five & dime.
August 13, 2021 @ 4:20 pm
I got cassette versions of “Light Beyond th e Wood’s” and The Flatlanders “More a legend than a band” sometime when I was in college, I listened to both of them constantly while driving through the cascades and out on the Olympic peninsula. Both albums are good all the way through, though I definitely rewound “Montana Back roads” to listen to on “repeat”! I could listen to Nancy Griffith sing all day long! Interesting to hear how feisty she was, now I need to dig up some interviews. RIP and fly high!
The Ghost Of OlaR...
August 13, 2021 @ 5:02 pm
Thank you for the music & rest in peace.
August 13, 2021 @ 5:20 pm
I used to sweep the deck of our old house in the woods while dancing to Banks of the Ponchartrain. Good times. Thanks, Nanci.
August 13, 2021 @ 6:51 pm
This was the best article I read about Nanci Griffith
since the news hit. Those letters she wrote to critics were so odd. I always wondered what compelled her to take that action.
Her music meant a lot to me. She was never afraid to express her vulnerability and heartache.
August 13, 2021 @ 6:52 pm
Wonderful poet and singer. “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods” is right up there with Joni Mitchell and Irish balladeers. Rest in peace, Nanci Griffith.
H. I. McDonough
August 13, 2021 @ 8:19 pm
A huge fan, I attended a concert of hers in Santa Cruz in the 90s. The music was excellent but ear-splitting. One fan asker her to lower the volume and she said essentially, ‘If you don’t like it, leave.’ So she wasn’t all cookies and kindness. But who is?
August 13, 2021 @ 8:27 pm
She was an awesome song writer. Penned so many hit songs for others.She will never be forgotten. RIP
August 13, 2021 @ 8:53 pm
Always loved Love at the Five and Dime
Emmett Lee Hoover
August 14, 2021 @ 2:15 pm
So sad to hear the news what a great Lady so lucky her Dad took hear to see Townes so she would go on to become the great songwriter she was R.I.P. sweet songbird.
August 13, 2021 @ 9:08 pm
Always loved her music, but after I saw her live at the Sellersville theater with the Kennedys a few years ago with the Kennedys, I fell in love with her humanity. This is very sad news, especially after we lost her friend, John Prine. The world seems a little smaller tonight. RIP
August 13, 2021 @ 11:01 pm
She was a huge part of the soundtrack of my youth. I was coming into adulthood when I saw her play a small bar in Connecticut with Bela Fleck as her banjo player. This was just after Last of the True Believers came out. I moved to Texas when Lonestar State of Mind came out. From there I got into Lyle Lovett, Townes, Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, etc. Eventually I stopped listening to her for various reasons, but revisiting the old albums now is reminding me of what a touchstone she was for me. The poet in my window, to quote one of her album titles. She was such a good storyteller. She made me realize that the world in my head was a world other folks saw too. Rest In Peace.
August 14, 2021 @ 12:09 am
Thank You Trigger.
August 16, 2021 @ 12:19 pm
I saw her in; London, Nottingham, Manchester and again in London. Her music helped me through some bad times but also mostly through all the good times. She was part of my youth and a piece of me died at the weekend. RIP NG the friend I never met 😢
August 14, 2021 @ 3:00 am
So sorry to hear this. Her “Lone Star State of Mind” album is one of my favorites.
August 14, 2021 @ 6:12 am
This one hurts…been a huge fan since I saw her on Austin City Limits back in the 80’s. She had a very unique vocal style. Sounded what I imagine an angel would sound like singing.
August 14, 2021 @ 8:13 am
I saw Nanci Griffith perform at least half a dozen times, mostly at the Paramount in Austin, sometimes two nights in a row.
I was lucky enough to score a couple of tickets for the Other Voices tour and imagine my surprise to find out that Ann Richards was there to introduce Nanci (“You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the girl.”) and to be able to see Emmylou and Iris Dement sing alongside Nanci! It was a night that will live in my memory forever.
This woman’s music was the soundtrack to my life for almost 20 years and she will be missed. RIP Nanci.
August 19, 2021 @ 7:03 pm
Wow. You’re one lucky gal, Monica. Boy am I jealous. I watched the video of that tour hours on end to learn how she played the chords to those OVOR songs on the guitar. (She was also a superb guitar player with utterly unique strumming and picking styles.) That video reveals Nanci’s soul. She’s not getting the accolades now that, say, John Prine is getting. But she will. History records the truth eventually. And the truth is that Nanci Griffith is one of the greats.
August 14, 2021 @ 8:31 am
Sorry for all of her family & friends that she is gone.
Hope it is Ok if i ask this, here.
Are you going to be doing another “Country History X” podcast soon?
August 14, 2021 @ 9:01 am
Thanks for the interest in the Country History X podcast. I’ve been wanting to address this, but even addressing it publicly runs the risk of creating more drama.
Long story short, I have many more episodes coming, including episodes that are sitting in the can, ready to post as we speak. Unfortunately though, every time I post an episode, it has become an attack vector for Tyler Mahan Coe and his sycophants, surrogates, and toadies to say all I’m trying to do is undermine what he’s doing, which is not the case at all. Coe characterizes it as most or all the episodes are about George Jones, cocaine, and David Allan Coe so I can piggy back off of his popularity, which is verifably and flatly false. Anyone who has actually listened to the podcast knows this is not even close to true. Also, all but one of the episodes posted are stuff I had covered on Saving Country Music previously, I just turned it into a podcast. The idea Tyler Mahan Coe should have a monopoly on talking about country history is ludicrous. He also characterizes any criticism he receives as coming from bot or burner accounts I have created, because he can’t imagine anyone not seeing that he’s indeed perfect in every way.
But not wanting to ruffle any feathers, I paused the podcast for about a month earlier in the summer just to let the dust settle a little bit. But as soon as I started posting new episodes, once again Tyler Mahan Coe went on an apoplectic fit like the spoiled starchild he is who demands to always be the center of attention, and once again it was a vector to shit on the entirety of Saving Country Music. I truly don’t want this drama, and again, it wasn’t my intent to attack Tyler Mahan Coe or anything of the sort, so I paused the podcast yet again.
So I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it at this point. Again, I will post more episodes, but I may wait until Coe’s “season” is done. Or I may just say screw it, and start posting them again. But long story short, it’s not going away. I just started the podcast because I thought it was fun and cool, and Tyler Mahan Coe—who comes from the school of making everyone as miserable as they are to get back at the world—has made it decidedly unfun. But again, I respect what he’s doing, and don’t want to impinge or undermine it. So out of respect, I’m trying to give him the space he wants, even if it’s not the space he deserves.
August 14, 2021 @ 9:10 am
Have to make this quick – get back to work & all that.
Not to take anything away from Mr. Coe, & you are not.
When you feel like throwing another “Country Music X” out there, do it.
We have your back.
And i’m all like, wait a minute… what the he–, where’s our next Trig podcast.
They might be a little addictive
August 14, 2021 @ 9:35 am
Team screw it here.
18 Dales and a dozen comments
August 14, 2021 @ 5:03 pm
I enjoy your show much more, Trigg. Yours actually stick to the point of the story. His veer off on some shit that has nothing to do with the story, no matter how hard he tries to tie the two things together. His voice sucks too. Not an easy listen. You don’t answer to him. You’re a much more credible journalist. Please post the new ones.
August 14, 2021 @ 7:24 pm
Country History X is one of the greatest things I’ve ever discovered. I don’t know and don’t care who this other dude is. He is not you, Trig, and you are why I love Country History X(and this site).
I beg you to not slow down, pause or any of that. This site and your podcast changed everything for me, a person who didn’t even like country music…at first. I came to country from the rock crossover world(The Band, Dylan, Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, even Wilco)but ALL of my current favorites were discovered here(Colter Wall, Vincent Neil Emerson, and my album of the year..Riley Downing).
I feel like the podcast has legs, as they say. It could go from Bill Monroe to the country influence heard in Exile on Mainstreet and not miss a beat due to your stellar writing and insight. Anyway, big fan.
And so sad to hear about Nanci. And to rant about CMX in this post about her passing. She was adorable and damn, that voice! She will be missed.
August 20, 2021 @ 4:58 am
I think it would help if you preceded every Country History X episode, no matter what the ostensible topic, with a 10 minute history of, say, cricket, or bocce ball.
August 14, 2021 @ 8:42 am
Nanci got me through some very hard times…. “Don’t Forget About Me “ was one of my favorites. “Late Night Grand Hotel” is another one of her songs that made me fall in love with her music. Rest In Peace, Nanci. I’ll always love you.
August 14, 2021 @ 11:01 am
To Tyler Coe:
My name is Kevin Smith. Real name. I m what you might call one of the common people, like the ones your father made a career singing for. Im a huge fan of your fathers catalog, and im able to seperate the artist from the reprobate. And make no miatake, hes a reprobate. I also thoroughly enjoyed season 1 of your podcast. However, loooong before your enlightening podcast existed, ive been reading SCM. Kyle Coroneos has created arguably, the greatest Country Music website on the internet. There is no one even close. He wins hands down. Coroneos has devoted his time , energy and resources into creating it. And hes a self made man entirely.
Podcasts are quite popular right now, but lets get one thing straight, here and now, you dont own the idea. Podcasts may be done by anyone who wishes to do them. Kyles podcast doesnt compete with yours, and in no way does it hinder folks from reading yours. Its really quite that simple. There is absolutely no reason your podcast and Kyles website and podcast cannot co-exist quite well. And heres a really radical concept, people may listen to both!!
Instead of viewing Kyle as a competitor, maybe you could look at him as an ally. Wouldnt that be a saavy business move? In times past Kyle has sent plenty of people including myself to your podcast.
Now that ive said that, im not finding your snark and nastiness particularly to be a good selling point. You wish to be considered a Country Music Historian of note? Then start acting like one! Have you met Eddie Stubbs or Marty Stuart? They conduct themselves in a way that brings honor and attention to the music, not themselves. You would do well to consider emulating folks like that, should you wish to continue in this historian role. You are better than this Tyler Coe.
August 14, 2021 @ 8:45 pm
I think the snark has the opposite intended effect, on me at least anyway. Instead of being edgy or witty, I find it boring.
August 14, 2021 @ 1:26 pm
Just finished listening to The Last of the True Believers, and then listened to the three first songs again for good measure. Man, what an album! It’s like a greatest hits compilation. Nanci was one fine folxey lady. One of the truly great ones for me, I don’t care how recognized or not. May she rest in peace.
August 14, 2021 @ 6:09 pm
What terrible news Townes, then Guy , John last year , and now Nanci. Her cover of “Tecumseh Valley” was unequaled. Wherever singer-songwriters go, I’d love to have a ticket someday. She will be missed.
August 14, 2021 @ 6:39 pm
Thanks for writing this, Trig. These people deserve our respect and some good words written about them after they’ve given us so many good songs and words over the years. It’s nice of you to repay the favor.
August 14, 2021 @ 9:22 pm
Maaaaaannnnnn I just did a tribute to Nanci on my Sunday Country Music stream. She is one of my favorite of country. Listen to the Radio I play regularly and ESPECIALLY on national radio day in august.
August 15, 2021 @ 12:25 am
Only saw her in concert once …Julie Gold Dan Flowers (writer of Tulsa Time) in her band. That was such a great show.
Nanci thank you for being a part of my yesterdays 🕊Rest in Peace 🕊🕉
August 15, 2021 @ 3:00 pm
All one must do is to see Nancy’s story of Love At The Five and Dime.her voice was magic.
Her expressions wonderful. Nancy’s guitar could talk! I miss her so very much.
I know you will rest now. Be at peace and join the Angel Band that awaits you.
All my love ,Princess
August 15, 2021 @ 6:46 pm
Also, Kathy Mattea had a #1 hit in 1987 with Goin’ Gone, which Nanci first recorded on “Last of the True Believers” although Nanci didn’t write it, it was written by Pat Alger, Bill Dale and Fred Koller.
August 15, 2021 @ 8:47 pm
I love Nancy! I hear a lot of her in Emily Scott Robinson.
August 16, 2021 @ 4:49 am
We saw her touring with John Prine in support of Other Voices. Great great show. Every once in a while I would wonder what became of her and dip into her music for a bit. Unbelievable voice that worked magic on the songs, hers and others’.
From the outside it seems like for all the wonderful art and the unvarnished love and respect of her chosen community and her fans, at the bottom, she wasn’t very happy. I hope that’s wrong because, if not, I find that profoundly sad.
August 16, 2021 @ 9:19 am
This is just very sad news. She was such an important artist in my music fan life. Her Lone Star State of Mind album was my first purchase from the country music section of a record store. Her live album One Fair Summer Evening is one that I treasure so much and an album I’ve bought as a gift for others probably a handful of times. Other Voices, Other Rooms and Other Voices, Too are albums that I absolutely love, too. It is through those albums that I got turned on to Townes Van Zant and Guy Clark, for starters. And my love of her music was a catalyst for getting into other country/folk artists such as Rosanne Cash, Maura O’Connell (who did a great cover of Trouble in the Fields), Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, Kelly Willis, and John Gorka. Saw her four times in concert between ’91 to ’99 and loved her every time.
August 16, 2021 @ 11:16 am
You could take the artists in your post and put together a pretty solid festival. And a couple of new names (O’Connell and Gorka) for me to check out so thanks!
August 17, 2021 @ 10:29 pm
I remember binge playing last of the true believers in the basement of my house in Bethlehem pa in 1986. I kept my guitars down there and the title song inspired me to write the best song I ever wrote. I will miss nanci Griffith.
August 18, 2021 @ 2:59 pm
One of my first country music cassette tapes was Red Hot + Country from 1994, with Nanci Griffith and Jimy Webb singing If These Old Walls Could Speak. I miss that song, her voice, that time. Rest in peace.
August 24, 2021 @ 6:16 am
How we loved her! From an appreciative and adoptive father in Texas.
August 29, 2021 @ 4:48 pm
I first became familiar with her music when she was feature as a guest artist on a live Chieftains album called “An Irish Evening”. I began to explore her catalog. Lone Star State of Mind and Little Love Affairs are still favorites of mine. I wish she would have stayed in that mode a little longer before moving away from country and more towards folk, but I always found something I could enjoy on all of her albums. I’m very saddened by the news of her passing.
March 19, 2023 @ 9:29 am
RIP Nanci Griffith
Her songs were some of the first I learned to play on my guitar when I got to California 30 years ago.
I was sad to hear that she felt insecurity in her life and how hard the critics words hit her.