Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith died Friday morning in Nashville, a rep for her management company has confirmed to Variety. No caused of death was announced; she was 68.
“It was Nanci’s wish that no further formal statement or press release happen for a week following her passing,” Gold Mountain Entertainment said in a statement. Griffith survived cancer twice in the 1990s.
While a powerful singer in her own right, Griffith was arguably better known for her songs like “Love at the Five and Dime” (which was a country hit for Kathy Mattea) and “Outbound Plane” (ditto Suzy Bogguss) and as a collaborator: She recorded duets with Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Willie Nelson, the Chieftains, Darius Rucker, and many others over the course of her four-decade career. Her Grammy was for an album consisting of classic country covers, “Other Voices, Other Rooms.”
Yet that circle of collaborators speaks both to her vast influence and the respect she commanded in the country, folk, Americana, singer-songwriter and other multihyphenate musical communities — she called her style “folkabilly.” Possessed of a sweet yet seasoned voice and an incisive songwriting style, she recorded some 18 studio albums, beginning in 1978 with the independently released “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods,” recorded when she was 24.
In fact, Griffith’s genre-spanning style led to challenges from the beginning of her career. Born in Seguin, Texas in 1953, she began playing clubs in nearby Austin as a teenager and worked as a schoolteacher before her musical career took off. Initially primarily a folk singer — a style that was hardly at the peak of its popularity in the late 1970s — she was eventually deeply embraced by the Nashville community and made the city her home for many years. However, she was not equally embraced by country radio, and eventually worked in a hybrid style.
She began releasing albums regularly in 1982 with “Poet in My Window,” and they followed at a steady clip for nearly 30 years. She moved to Nashville in the middle of the decade and signed with MCA, releasing the first of four albums for the label, “Lone Star State of Mind,” in 1987. She scored country hits with Julie Gold’s “From a Distance” (later a hit for Bette Midler) and “I Knew Love,” yet consistent radio success proved elusive. Ventures into more commercial territory met with mixed success, and she returned to her folk-country roots upon joining Elektra Records in 1992 — indeed, she won a Grammy with “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” her first of five albums for the label.
She continued to tour widely and release albums up until “Intersections,” recorded with her longtime band members Pete and Maura Kennedy, which was recorded in her Nashville home and released in 2012 on the indie Proper Records.
Regardless of Griffith’s request for a week’s delay before formal statements, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young paid tribute shortly after her death was confirmed on Friday:
“Nanci Griffith was a master songwriter who took every opportunity to champion kindred spirits, including Vince Bell, Elizabeth Cook, Iris DeMent, Julie Gold, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Eric Taylor and Townes Van Zandt,” he wrote. “Her voice was a clarion call, at once gentle and insistent. Her brilliant album ‘The Last of the True Believers’ is a template for what is now called Americana music, and her Grammy-winning 'Other Voices, Other Rooms' is a compelling guide to 20th-century folk songs. Nanci offered gifts that no one else could give.”