‘Folkabilly’ Singer-Songwriter Nanci Griffith Dead at 68

It was announced on Friday that Grammy-winning “folkabilly” singer Nanci Griffith has passed away in Nashville. Griffith was the first musician to record the song “From a Distance.”

She was 68 years old. According to a statement from her old record label, Rounder Records, she passed away from “unknown circumstances.”

Griffith’s 1993 covers album “Other Voices, Other Rooms” was very well received, and it contained cameos from friends including John Prine, Emmylou Harris, and Bob Dylan (who played harmonica on his own “Boots of Spanish Leather”). In the following year, it beat off an album by Dylan to take home the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

There were several hits for other country performers that Griffith originally recorded. Songs like “Love at the Five and Dime” by Kathy Mattea and “Outbound Plane” by Suzy Bogguss, both by different artists, made it into the Top 10 at the time.

“A beautiful soul that I love has left this earth,” Bogguss wrote on Facebook. “I feel blessed to have many memories of our times together and almost everything she ever recorded. I’m going to spend the day reveling in the articulate masterful legacy she’s left us.” 

Nanci Griffith cause of death
Nanci Griffith cause of death

Born on July 6, 1953, in Seguin, Texas, Griffith grew up about 50 miles north in Austin. As a young woman and subsequently a student at the University of Texas in the 1970s, she performed in the city’s bars, making it famous for its vibrant live music scene. Beginning her professional life as a kindergarten teacher, Griffith put music on hold for a while before deciding to pursue songwriting full-time in 1977.

Two albums, “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods” (1978) and “Poet in My Window” (1982), were released independently in Texas before she signed with Philo for the country-leaning “Once In A Very Blue Moon” (1984), which was co-produced by Griffith in Nashville with Americana mainstay Jim Rooney.

Griffith has spent her career perfecting a style she calls “folkabilly,” which combines parts of country music with her empathic folk sensibility.

In the 2000s, Griffith maintained her risky musical experiments, perhaps most notably on the string-laden torch song collection “Ruby’s Torch,” for which she claimed to have taken out a mortgage on her home.

Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Iris DeMent, Jimmy Buffett, Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, and Darius Rucker are just a few artists from Tennessee, Texas, and beyond that have worked with Griffith.

In 2008, Griffith received the Lifetime Americana Trailblazer Award from the Americana Music Association in Nashville.

“I’ve been allowed to run amok in my career, like a bad kid in the neighborhood throwing rocks through windows,” she told The Tennessean in 2006. “I’ve done country, bluegrass, folk, my songwriting, classical. . . it’s just been really fun. I’m appreciative and grateful.”

Intersection,” Griffith’s last studio album, was released in 2012.

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