By Michelle Nikolai
Nanci Griffith Opens Her Heart
Most of the last decade was a long, dry spell for influential Texas folk artist Nanci Griffith. The political situation left her conflicted as a songwriter, and she wanted to believe in the power of the American people again.
While reading The New York Times, she came across the obituary of Mildred Loving, an African American woman who married Richard Loving, a white man, in 1958. The couple was arrested because of Virginia’s Jim Crow law and forced to leave their home state. Their case made it to the Supreme Court in 1967, which ruled in favor of the Lovings and lifted the ban on interracial marriage, but Richard died in a car accident and Mildred never remarried.
“After a couple of hours of just sitting there and crying, and wondering why this case isn’t championed in our country, I sat down and the song wrote itself,” Griffith explains. The Loving Kind became the title track of Griffith’s 19th album, released in 2009 on Rounder Records. In the last year, Griffith turned a corner and, with a newfound sense of optimism, wrote a batch of new songs – her most political record in years. The crippling writers’ block that had gripped her slowly disintegrated, and she found new inspiration in other people’s stories.
“People opened up their hearts again for the first time in a long time and said, ‘Yes, we can – we can do this, we can turn all this animosity and fighting around and make somethin’ of ourselves again,” she laughs in her gentle Texas drawl. “It was a different voice, because I was back writing again, and writing very strong and being inspired by events all around me. I think it was very different in that the songs came very naturally.”
Though The Loving Kind doesn’t shy away from hot button topics, the album is not all about causes. Griffith’s mentor and songwriting hero, Dee Moeller, penned two of the four cover songs featured – “Tequila After Midnight” and “Party Girl.” Griffith was inspired by Moeller’s songs since she was a teenager. “She’s an extraordinary writer, she never wrote bad song in her life, and she crafted the most perfect honky tonk songs ever written,” Griffith says.
In February, Griffith traveled to the United Kingdom to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from BBC Radio 2 during its annual Folk Awards. This follows the Americana Trailblazer Award, bestowed on her by the Americana Music Association in 2008 for her influence on generations of artists.
“I think I’ve been blessed to have a kind of easygoing career. The fans are out there, and they wait for new records to come along… it’s a lovely feeling,” she concludes.