Remembering Nanci Griffith: A Love Light Lost

Reflections on the loss of an American country-folk poet

RIP Nanci Griffith (Art: Ron Hart)

With the passing of Nanci Griffith, the world loses not only a gifted singer / songwriter, but a gentle soul who brought light into an often dark and treacherous world.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

It’s no coincidence that her first three albums were titled There’s a Light Beyond These Woods, Poet in My Window and Once in a Very Blue Moon, given that they reflected that illuminating quality Griffith established early in her career. So too, her fourth album, The Last of the True Believers, shared the faith and fulfillment that were nestled at the very essence of her songs.

Born in the tiny hamlet of Seguin Texas, raised in Austin and a frequent guest on Austin City Limits, Griffith was an essential Texas singer, as thoroughly identified with that state as Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson and other iconoclastic brethren. Yet given the wider breadth of her music and its melding of folk, country and Americana, it’s little surprise that her music also resonated with fans far beyond her state’s borders, including those in Ireland where she was always welcomed and revered.

That said, Griffith always paid heed to her own influences as well, and two of her landmark albums, the Grammy Award-winning Other Voices, Other Rooms and its sequel of sorts, Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful) found her covering songs by Bob Dylan, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Cash, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, and Pete Seeger, and doing so with an emotional aplomb that quite literally made that material her own. Griffith’s take on the Julie Gold composition “From a Distance” is but one example.

 

VIDEO: Nanci Griffith performs “From A Distance” on Late Night With David Letterman, 1988

So too, it’s little wonder that many of the original artists originally responsible for that material opted to guest on those efforts and others were eager to cover her material as well. 

Pete and Maura Kennedy, two wonderful singer/songwriters in their own right, toured frequently with Griffith as members of her backing band the Blue Moon Orchestra, and they’ve long acknowledged her impact and influence on their music. On hearing of her passing, they shared the following: 

“The process of our grieving over the loss of our soulmate Nanci Griffith has included moments of joy that we knew her so well and for so long. The mutually-endured rigors of international travel, the daily pageant of travel to new places, and especially the transcendent moments when she sang us, and her audience, to that light beyond the woods; those are the memories that bring smiles to our faces. She left more than just memories, though. The gift of her songs, those she wrote and those she curated from the best of the best; that’s a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come.”

Aside from her Grammy, Griffith garnered several other high-profile accolades, including the Kate Wolf Memorial Award presented her by the World Folk Music Association and the Americana Trailblazer Award courtesy of the Americana Music Association.

Though no cause for her death this past Friday, August 13 was given — at the request of Griffith herself — she was a survivor of breast cancer and thyroid cancer in the ‘90s.

While the sadness is incalculable, it ought to be remembered that true angels never die. All one need do is look towards a very blue moon and her shining spirit will become very, very clear. 

 

 You May Also Like

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

2 thoughts on “Remembering Nanci Griffith: A Love Light Lost

  • August 16, 2021 at 10:31 am
    Permalink

    Bravo, Lee. Excellent tribute.

    Reply
  • August 20, 2021 at 12:15 am
    Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your lovely remembrance. I saw Nanci live in San Diego and Los Angeles and some of my fondest memories.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.