Nanci Griffith: Grammy-winning singer dies aged 68

Folk singer was covered by artists including Dolly Parton and Bette Midler

Roisin O'Connor
Saturday 14 August 2021 17:03

Nanci Griffith performs 'From A Distance' on Letterman, 1988

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Nanci Griffith, the Grammy-winning folk singer and songwriter, has died aged 68.

The Texan musician was known for songs such as “Love at the Five and Dime”, which celebrated the South.

A statement from Griffith’s manager to the Associated Press confirmed the news of her death. No cause was disclosed. “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.

The youngest of three children, Griffith was born in Seguin, Texas, on 6 July 1954. Her family moved to Austin shortly after. Her father, Marlin Griffiths, was a graphics artist and barbershop quartet singer, her mother Ruelene was a real estate agent and amateur actor. Her parents divorced in 1960.

Griffith began her career as a singer performing in a local coffeehouse, aged 12. Her father took her to see Townes Van Zandt when she was a teenager and she recalled being “blown away by his eloquence and his writing”, she told Texas Monthly in a 1999 interview.

Her debut album, There’s a Light Beyond These Woods, was released in 1978, with a cover designed by Griffith’s father. The title song of her third album, Once in a Very Blue Moon, was covered by Dolly Parton for her 1985 record, Real Love.

Among Griffith’s best-known songs was “From a Distance”, which was later covered by artists including Bette Midler and Cliff Richard.

Nanci Griffith at the 12th annual Americana Music festival at Centennial Park on October 15, 2011

Among those to pay early tribute was Texas Monthly’s executive editor, Michael Hall, who shared the interview he did with Griffith in 1999 and “American Pie” singer Don McLean.

“She could be thin-skinned and sentimental – also a nuanced interpreter,” he wrote. “Townes Van Zandt said her version of ‘Tecumseh Valley’ was ‘the best cover of any of my songs ever’.”

Griffith was diagnosed with cancer at least twice, first with breast cancer in 1996 and later with thyroid cancer in 1999.

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