Nanci Griffith: Grammy Award-winning folk singer

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Nanci Griffith, who died at the age of 68, was a soft, understated American singer-songwriter who called her style of music “folkabilly”, a mixture of folk and country.

After bursting onto the Texas music scene in the 1980s, she moved to Nashville, toured the world, mingled with Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett and other big names in the country, and campaigned. on issues such as ridding the world of anti-personnel mines.

Griffith’s influence goes beyond his own success as a performer. One of his best-known songs, “Love at the Five and Dime”, from his 1986 album The last of the true believers, was a No. 3 single for country artist Kathy Mattea on the Billboard country charts that year.

It told the story of a love affair between a Woolworth saleswoman and an aspiring steel guitarist, and was typical of how Griffith brought his own observations on the details of life to his songs, in this case. remembered when she was sitting in a bus stop in Austin, Texas.

She told audiences at her concerts that the recurring sound of “ting” on her recording depicted an elevator in a Woolworth store.

“Gulf Coast Highway”, a duet with Mac McAnally that Griffith wrote with her band member James Hooker and singer-songwriter Danny Flowers for her The little love affairs album (1988), was recorded two years later by Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson.

Then, in 1991, “Outbound Plane”, written by Griffith with Tom Russell for the same LP, was one of the 10 best country singles in the United States for Suzy Bogguss.

“Borrowing” herself someone else’s composition, Griffith was the first artist to record, on her fifth album, Lone Star State of Mind (1987), Julie Gold’s global consciousness song “From a Distance”. The LP meant a shift to a more overt country style, although the single was only rated in Ireland, peaking at No.9 in 1988.

The song itself was a worldwide hit for Bette Midler two years later – but Griffith got the distinction of playing her version to wake up astronauts daily during the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission in 1995.

Gold also recognized Griffith as his “mentor, for putting the song on hold first. [and] enhance it ”.

Little love affairs was the first of Griffith’s eight albums, including a 1993 compilation, to hit the UK mainstream charts, with half of them making the top 40.

The most successful, Other voices / Other rooms (1993), a throwback to its folk roots, exclusively featured compositions by other writers – songs from legends such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Ralph McTell – and Griffith performed some as a duet, with Emmylou Harris joining her on two tracks, while country guitarist Chet Atkins was among the many guest musicians.

With a title taken from a novel by Truman Capote, the collection won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

Nanci Caroline Griffith was born in Seguin, outside the Texas town of San Antonio, in 1953 to Ruelene (née McPherson), a real estate agent and amateur actor, and Marlin Griffith, a graphic designer and bookseller who sang in quartets of hair salons and introduced her daughter. to folk music.

Griffith performed at the Americana Music festival in 2011

(Getty)

She grew up in Austin, Texas, her parents separated when she was six, and she learned to play the guitar on her own by watching an educational television series.

Then she started writing her own songs – the first one was “A New Generation” when she was 12 – because she found it easier than learning to play other people’s songs.

Griffith first performed in public at Red Lion Cafe in Austin for the Thanksgiving holiday when she was 14, then at local clubs.

After earning a degree in education from the University of Texas, she taught kindergarten and first graders while also having a regular spot at the city’s Hole in the Wall club.

In 1978, she had the chance to record her first album, There is a light beyond these woods, whose title song was influenced by her high school romance with a boy who died in a motorcycle accident after taking her to the prom.

Poet in my window followed in 1982 and, like the first LP, was only released locally.

There was a wider circulation for Once in a very blue moon in 1985 and a year later Griffith formed his backing group, the Blue Moon Orchestra, which debuted on The last of the true believers.

Lone Star State of Mind, a top 30 country hit in 1987 and his most successful album in the United States, was recorded after moving to Nashville, the country music capital, and signed to MCA Records.

Storms (1989), produced by Glyn Johns, and Late Night Grande Hotel (1991), by Peter Van Hooke and Rod Argent, with guest singers Phil Everly and Tanita Tikaram, marked a shift towards mainstream pop that disappointed some Griffith fans.

Other voices / Other rooms was another change of direction, more warmly received. Rolling stone The magazine applauded Griffith and saw it as a “gesture of sublime generosity” for her as a writer to take other people’s songs and “search for lost words and breathe new possibilities into them.”

Nonetheless, Griffith felt that she was never fully appreciated in her home country.

In 1998, she sent a letter to Texas newspapers complaining about the “years of brutal and abusive criticism in your publication,” adding: “My native soil that I have defended so much in the world has done its best to quell all the dignity that I carried within me. “

But, at the time of the release of his last LP, Intersection in 2012, she can look back on a career that has more than ten albums, several million sales, a Grammy Award and her songs covered by other artists.

Her letter to critics came the year she was recovering from thyroid cancer, following a breast cancer diagnosis in 1996.

She then traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia and Kosovo to support campaigns against landmines.

Her 1976 marriage to folk musician Eric Taylor ended in divorce six years later.

Nanci Griffith, musician, born July 6, 1953, died August 13, 2021


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