Fans of Texas music — and dedicated folk followers — knew Nanci Griffith as more than the skillful songwriter who wrote hits for Kathy Mattea (“Love at the Five and Dime,” Mattea’s first Top 10 hit) and Suzy Boguss (“Outbound Plane”). She was a gifted performer and songwriter who won the Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy in 1994 for her wonderful collection, Other Voices, Other Rooms, which featured Griffith interpreting the songs of other artists, including Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Kate Wolf and John Prine. Though Griffith never enjoyed the sort of commercial success her talents deserved, that album rose to No. 54 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The album was even more successful in the UK, where it peaked at No. 18.
A statement from her management company reported Griffith’s death on Aug. 13. She was 68.
Griffith recorded 18 albums in all, between 1978 and 2012, including her debut, There’s a Light Beyond These Woods, and her best, 1994’s Flyer. Her delightful 1988 live set at Anderson Fair in Houston, One Fair Summer Evening, helped solidify Griffith as a country artist as well. Four consecutive albums, in fact, beginning with 1987’s Lone Star State of Mind, cracked the Top 50 on the Billboard country chart.
In addition to her frequent appearances on Austin City Limits, Griffith was also an occasional guest on the Late Show with David Letterman. In 1998, she appeared on Letterman with Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and Eric Taylor to sing Clark’s classic, “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” which Griffith recorded on her album Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful). She also appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Rosie O’Donnell Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Sessions at West 54th.
Born in Seguin but raised in Austin, Griffith attended the University of Texas and began her professional career as a teacher before embracing music full-time in 1977 after winning a New Folk prize at the Kerrville Folk Festival. She was signed to MCA Records in 1987, where she worked with famed producer Tony Brown in Nashville on two albums, Lone Star State of Mind and the underrated Little Love Affairs, which rock critic Robert Christgau praised in a Village Voice review.
She was an important influence on other songwriters, like Lyle Lovett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Emmylou Harris, and, in 2008, she was awarded the Americana Trailblazer Award from the Americana Music Association. In July of this year, the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame announced it would be honoring Griffith at its next induction ceremony.