Nanci Griffith: Sometimes a Rare Music

Nanci Griffith: Sometimes a Rare Music

Written by Michael Walker

A master of songcraft is silent now, passing on Friday, August 13, 2021.

Nanci Griffith, singer, songwriter and proponent of “folkabilly”: her unique combination of folk and country is gone at 68.

Griffith was born in Seguin, Texas On July 6, 1953. Griffith’s high school boyfriend, John, died in a motorcycle accident after taking her to the senior prom, and subsequently became the muse of many of her songs.

Her first recording, There’s a Light Beyond These Woods, was recorded in 1978 for B.F. Deal Records in Austin, TX.

Louis Black of The Austin Chronicle wrote, “Nanci Griffith’s songs have always taken me back to those places. Reminded me how light shone through warped kitchen windows, how snow-covered mornings smelled, how a partner looked moving through the house. Griffith’s songs develop like Polaroids of lost moments, often of almost mundane subjects – not great passion, but the way the bathtub tilted or heading outdoors to bring in oranges for juice. Photos I’d thought were long lost. Griffith’s songs made me realize those snapshots will always be with me in some way.”

Griffith won a Grammy Award in 1994 for her Other Voices, Other Rooms album. She recorded songs written by the artists that influenced her most, including Kate Wolf, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Janis Ian, Tom Paxton and Townes Van Zandt among others. The title was borne from Truman Capote’s book about the terror of abandonment, the misery of loneliness and the yearning to be loved.




Nanci first recorded Julie Gold’s “From a Distance,” which I prefer to Bette Midler’s hit version.




Later in her career she kept playing while battling breast cancer in 1996, thyroid cancer in 1998, and a painful case of Dupuytren’s contracture, an abnormal thickening of the skin on the hand, which severely limited the mobility of her fingers.

The Americana Music Association gave Nanci a Lifetime American Trailblazer Award, in a ceremony held in the historic Ryman Auditorium in 2008. Sadly, on June 25, 2019, The New York Times listed Nanci Griffith among the numerous artists whose original recordings were destroyed in the Universal Studios fire in 2008.


Nancy is a bridge from our musical heritage to all those who inherit her legacy for an inspired future to come.

“In Our Woods, Sometimes a Rare Music”

Every spring
I hear the thrush singing
in the glowing woods
he is only passing through.
His voice is deep,
then he lifts it until it seems
to fall from the sky.
I am thrilled.
I am grateful.

Then, by the end of morning,
he’s gone, nothing but silence
out of the tree
where he rested for a night.
And this I find acceptable.
Not enough is a poor life.
But too much is, well, too much.
Imagine Verdi or Mahler
every day, all day.
It would exhaust anyone.

― Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Ledgard.

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