Nanci Griffith: Country music loses a legend – Ohio Ag Net

On August 13, 2021, Nanci Griffith, the American singer-songwriter, died at the age of 68 in Nashville, Tennessee. You might not recognize his name, but you might remember his songs if you heard them. She had a distinctive crystalline voice and a unique storytelling ability.

If you’re that inclined, search for Nanci Griffith on YouTube. It’s refreshing to see an artist focused on music. No fireworks, no revealing costume, no choreography. Just a clear voice and a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary people.

Nanci has often pointed out that if you take Woody Guthrie and Loretta Lynn and mix them together, you will get Nanci Griffith. She was inspired by Guthrie’s enduring folk music and impressed that Loretta Lynn was the first woman to play her own rhythm guitar when she performed the songs she wrote. Nanci described his music as “folkabilly”.

She was a frequent artist on Austin city limits and has made numerous guest musical appearances for the David Letterman Show. She was popular in Ireland and performed there several times. In 1986, Kathy Mattea enjoyed country success with her song “Love at the Five and Dime”. This work harkens back to a simpler era in America and manages to tell the story of a novel’s value in a matter of minutes.

Nanci won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album for Other voices, other rooms. The record was a tribute to songwriters who influenced his own composition and included appearances by Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan and John Prine. She created 27 albums during her career. She released a single, “From a Distance” which later became a huge hit for Bette Midler who explained that she listened very carefully to Nanci’s recording before her own performance.

Many music critics consider her to be the best songwriter in Austin, Texas. This is a great praise as this city is known for its rich and original music scene. My favorite Nanci Griffith song (and maybe my favorite song period) is Problem in the fields. Written about the agricultural crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s. She is said to have done more to explain the state of agriculture at the time than Hollywood did in three films (Country, The River and Places in the heart). Nanci had five great uncles who were farmers during the Great Depression. She wrote Problem in the fields in honor of his great aunt and uncle, Nettie Mae and Tootie, farmers for over 80 years near Lockney, Texas, near Lubbock.

When introducing this song during her performance at the 1988 Anderson Fair, Nanci recalled her great-aunt talking about the force of the wind blowing during the Dust Bowl. She was afraid to fall asleep at night because she was afraid to wake up in Oklahoma, and she didn’t want to live in Oklahoma.

Here are the words of Problem in the fields. Even without a melody, the words are pure poetry.

Baby I know we got trouble in the fields

When the bankers swarm like grasshoppers out there hijacking our returns

Trains run by our silos, money in the rain

They leave our pockets full of nothing

But our dreams and the grain of gold

Did you see people queuing downtown at the train station

They all buy their tickets and talk about the great depression
Our parents had a hard time fifty years ago
When they stood in these empty fields in dust as deep as snow

And all this trouble in our fields
If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal
They will never take our homeland
But if we sell this new John Deere
And then we’ll work these crops with sweat and tears
You will be the mule, I will be the plow
Come harvest time, we’ll work it out
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields

There’s a book on the shelf on the days of the dust bowl
And there’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me
On the photos on each page
Now our kids live in town and they rest on our shoulders
They never want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder

And all this trouble in our fields
If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal
They will never take our homeland
But if we sell this new John Deere
And then we’ll work these crops with sweat and tears
You will be the mule, I will be the plow
Come harvest time, we’ll work it out
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields

You will be the mule, I will be the plow
Come harvest time, we’ll solve it
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields

Rest in peace, Nanci Caroline Griffith.

Leisa Boley Hellwarth is a dairy farmer and lawyer. She represents Ohio farmers from her office near Celina. Its office number is 419-586-1072.


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