Nanci Griffith, the Grammy-winning folk and country songwriter whose popular recordings include “Love at the Five and Dime,” “Once in a Very Blue Moon,” and “Outbound Plane,” died Friday, her manager confirmed to Rolling Stone. No cause of death was given. She was 68.
Born July 6th, 1953, in Seguin, Texas, and raised in Austin, Nanci Caroline Griffith began her performing career as a teenager, playing at clubs and festivals around Texas. She attended the University of Texas and began a career as a teacher, but then switched full-time to music in 1977. Around the same time, she married fellow performer Eric Taylor; they divorced in 1982.
Griffith released her 1978 debut album There’s a Light Beyond These Woods, which documented a live performance in Austin, after winning a songwriting prize at the Kerrville Folk Festival. She put out a second album, 1982’s Poet in My Window, on another regional label before she signed with Philo and got national distribution for her albums Once in a Very Blue Moon and The Last of the True Believers.
In 1987, Griffith signed with MCA during the creatively fertile era of country music that Steve Earle once described as the “great credibility scare,” and released several albums. Those included Tony Brown-produced projects like Lone Star State of Mind and Little Love Affairs that demonstrated her powers as a writer as well as an interpreter of others’ work. Among her best-charting country radio singles from this era were “Lone Star State of Mind,” “Trouble in the Fields,” “Cold Hearts/Closed Minds,” and “I Knew Love,” which peaked at Number 37 in 1988.
Griffith was also the first artist to record Julie Gold’s “From a Distance,” which Bette Midler later cut in 1990 to massive pop success. Griffith’s recording of the song was successful in Ireland and helped endear her to performers like Mary Black, who championed her work and recorded a version of “Once in a Very Blue Moon.”
Though Griffith never got to experience a big radio hit with her own recordings, her songs were often recorded with greater success by others. “Love at the Five and Dime,” from The Last of the True Believers, earned Kathy Mattea a Number Three country hit in 1986. Likewise, “Outbound Plane,” which Griffith had written with Tom Russell for Little Love Affairs, ended up as a Top 10 hit for Suzy Bogguss in 1991. Other artists who cut Griffith’s songs include Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Maura O’Connell.
“My heart is aching. A beautiful soul that I love has left this earth,” Bogguss wrote on Instagram. “I feel blessed to have many memories of our times together along with most everything she ever recorded.”
Darius Rucker, who credited Griffith with his interest in country music and ultimately his decision to make records in Nashville, remembered her on Twitter. “Today I am just sad, man. I lost one of my idols. One of the reasons I am in Nashville. She blew my mind the first time I heard ‘Marie and Omie.’ And singing with her was my favorite things to do.”
Today i am just sad man. I lost one of my idols. One of the reasons I am in Nashville.She blew my mind the first time I heard Marie and Omie. And singing with her was my favorite things to do. Grammy-winning folk singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith dies. https://t.co/LxybrFSHAh
— Darius Rucker (@dariusrucker) August 13, 2021
Griffith shifted to a more pop-focused direction with 1989’s Storms, produced by Glyn Johns, and continued the trend with her final MCA album, Late Night Grande Hotel, in 1991. Griffith moved to Elektra Records for a time, putting out the covers collection Other Voices, Other Rooms in 1993, with a guest list that included Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Iris DeMent, and John Prine, who sang on her version of “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and starred in its video. Other Voices won a 1994 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album and spawned a sequel, 1998’s Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful).
Later, Griffith’s work took on a more political tone, as on 2009’s The Loving Kind, which took on topics such as the Loving vs. Virginia court case and Barack Obama’s campaign. Her final album would come out in 2012 with the indie-label project Intersection.
In July, it was announced that Griffith was among the incoming class of the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame.