Music: Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith, June 6, 1953-August 13, 2021

The first time I heard a Nanci Griffith tune, I didn’t know about Nanci Griffith. I was a country music listener at the time and I heard this incredible song by a new country singer, Kathy Mattea, and the song was “Love at the Five and Dime.”

Recent Kathy Mattea:

The first rendition of Kathy Mattea singing “Love at the Five and Dime.”:

The words and music were poignant. We didn’t have internet in the early 90’s so I just felt my way through music and eventually discovered Nanci Griffith. Her album “Other Voices, Other Rooms” became one of my most listened to albums. It was her gift/tribute to some of her favorite songwriters.

It gifted me with one of my favorite songs, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and introduced me to John Prine. Yep, I was a little late but it’s better late than never.

Because of “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” I went on to discover other Nanci Griffith songs. She wrote so many evocative songs and portrayed them so subtly, but beautifully.

I was fortunate to have seen her in a small venue, probably some 15 years ago. Her sweetness and intelligence came forth.

And her songs were something special always as was her voice:

The lyrics to “Trouble in the Fields” always resonated with me for no comprehensible reason other than she could gift words with emotions:

And all this trouble in our fields

If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal

They’ll never take our native soil

But if we sell that new John Deere

And then we’ll work these crops with sweat and tears

You’ll be the mule I’ll be the plow

Come harvest time we’ll work it out

There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields

Songwriters: Nanci Griffith / Rick West

I am on vacation and chose to make that one without most electronics so my still-connected friend vacationing with me said this evening: “You heard about Nanci Griffith?”

And my heart plummeted as it seems to these days when an introduction like that is laid forth.

“She died.”

I didn’t vocalize the “oh” that swept upward.

I’ve been cooking on vacation rather than going out and dealing with Delta, so as I settled into the task of chopping onions and celery, I asked Alexa to play “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” I sang all of the songs by heart. And I shed tears because Nanci’s music was a huge part of my life. It’s hard to believe she’s gone and I’ll never have the opportunity to see her sing again. And, yes, I’m so glad that I did once see her. Her songs will always be a part of me, a huge part because she came to me when I was truly forming as a human being and her gentle spirit hopefully became a part of my psyche.

You may not have heard of Nanci Griffith but her heart and soul were bigger than the universe. I hope you seek out some of her songs. She was not mainstream, but I think that made her better, unique, irreplaceable.

Nanci died at 68, far too young. Godspeed Nanci.

7 replies »

    • She never really made it on country stations here. She seemed to be on that periphery of folkie kind of music. But it is a loss knowing that she’ll never write or sing any of her beautiful songs again.

  1. A really sad loss, and a nice tribute to a wonderful person. I shared mine yesterday and, sadly, most who read it hadn’t heard of her. A real hidden gem!

    • Rolling Stone a few days ago posted an interview with her from 1987 in which she said she was bigger in England and Ireland than the States. At least we finally discovered her. Yes, definitely a gem!

      • Her records did mostly perform better here (UK) than in the States, and she was hugely popular in Ireland, thanks to collaboration with the Chieftains raising her profile. There are quite a few artists who deserve better recognition than they already have. Sadly, for many that often comes after their passing, but at least we have her wonderful music to remember her by.

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