It was 1983. I was 25 and in grad school at Emerson College in Boston. I first met Nanci Griffith backstage at a fund-raiser for WERS – the University’s radio station in Boston, and where I got my first chance to broadcast. I remember being struck by how much younger she seemed than me then, though she was four years older. She wore bobby socks and spoke in an almost squeaky, little-girl voice. But when she started to sing on stage that night, what I heard I had not expected. I was riveted. Each of her songs was a short story, and I hung on every word.
Since then, Nanci Griffith has essentially provided a soundtrack to my life. Her popularity in Ireland ensured that all of my family shared my passion. Our four children grew up on her songs as the music of our summers spent in my native West Cork, and their numerous cousins shared their enthusiasm. Our family gatherings – all based as with many Irish occasions, the ‘sing-song’ – would always feature Nanci Griffith songs. Such was our connection.
In this radio tribute, I talk with my daughter Aoife O’Donovan who is herself now a singer-songwriter. Aoife attended her first Nanci Griffith concert at age nine. We hear from Brad Paul, who was my mentor in my early radio days. He was the one who introduced me backstage that night at Sanders Theatre and was a personal friend of Nanci’s. We hear from Cathy Jordan of Dervish at her home in Sligo. And we hear from folk journalist and writer Scott Alarik.
I include a playlist below. All the songs used in this segment, plus some of my own personal favorites. Worth checking out.