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Singer-Songwriter Jesse Winchester Dies

Jesse Winchester, whose "blend of folk, blues and country ... embodies the spirit of American music," has died.

His manager, Keith Case, tells NPR's Jacob Ganz that Winchester died Friday morning in Charlottesville, Va., where he lived. He was 69 and had been battling cancer.

Winchester spent many of his early years in Memphis, and the Commercial Appeal offers a long appreciation of him. He was, the newspaper says, "one of music's sweetest voices and most incisive songwriters." It adds that:

"The mellifluous-voiced author of 'The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,' 'Mississippi, You're on My Mind' and 'Biloxi,' the Memphis-raised Winchester had long been a favorite of critics and fellow musicians, covered by a wide array of artists from Wilson Pickett to the Everly Brothers, Jerry Garcia to Reba McEntire. Bob Dylan was famously quoted as saying of Mr. Winchester: 'You can't talk about the best songwriters and not include him.' In 2007, Mr. Winchester was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from performing rights organization ASCAP for his body of work."

The Commercial Appeal reports it learned of Winchester's death from the singer-songwriter's wife, Cindy Winchester.

Last November, NPR Music posted a Mountain Stage performance by Winchester. That page includes this background:

"Winchester ranks among the elite group of singer-songwriters who can captivate an audience with just his words, his voice and an acoustic guitar.

"The musician is revered by everyone from James Taylor and Lyle Lovett to Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris. Winchester even famously brought a tear to Neko Case's eye after performing 'Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding' on Elvis Costello's Spectacle program, which he also performs in this set."

Winchester's career was dramatically affected by his decision to leave the U.S. rather than face the draft during the Vietnam War. As World Cafe has written:

"Winchester was on track for a successful performing career, but his status as a Vietnam War draft-evader prevented him from touring and gaining a footing in the U.S. He opted to move north to Montreal in 1967, and developed a strong Canadian following while touring there. Winchester released seven albums in the 1970s and early '80s, culminating with the Top 40 hit 'Say What' in 1981."

Winchester, like hundreds of thousands of other anti-war protesters who left the country or otherwise avoided the draft, was able to return to the U.S. after President Carter granted them unconditional pardons on his first day in office — Jan. 21, 1977.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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