Jessie Winchester has died aged 69.
The musician had been suffering from cancer and passed away at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday morning.
“Friends, our sweet Jesse died peacefully in his sleep this morning,” said a message posted on Winchester’s Facebook page. “Bless his loving heart.”
Winchester – whose songs included “Yankee Lady”, “Biloxi”, “Mississippi You’re on My Mind” and “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz” – was born in Louisiana, in 1944, before moving to Memphis, Tennessee with his family.
Famously, he left the States for Montréal in 1967 after receiving his draft notice. “It’s strange, but I respect the people who went to Vietnam. It was just the way you saw it. If you believed in the reasons for it, it was your duty to go. If you didn’t, then I don’t see how you could go. If you’re gonna pick up a gun and shoot somebody, you better believe,” he told the Montreal Gazette . Winchester was eventually pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Robbie Robertson recalls meeting Winchester in 1970.
“A friend of mine told me about him, and we went from Montréal, where I was living, to pay him a visit,” Robertson says. “He sang me a few songs, and I knew immediately he was the real thing. Great songwriter, with a very moving vocal sound.”
Robertson subsequently hooked Winchester up with manager Albert Grossman, and also produced Winchester’s self-titled debut, which also featured Robertson’s fellow Band musician, Levon Helm/.
Winchester’s songs were covered by a artists from James Taylor, Jerry Garcia, Allen Toussaint, Emmylou Harris, Wilson Pickett, Joan Baez, the Walker Brothers. Bob Dylan once said of Winchester: “You can’t talk about the best songwriters and not include him.”
Last autumn, artists including James Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello recorded a tribute album, Quiet About It.
Previous reports had erroneously claimed that Winchester had died last weekend. “Elvis Costello sent me a lovely condolence note,” his wife, Cindy Winchester, told The Commercial Appeal. “When he learned that the rumor of Jesse’s death [was] false, Elvis replied, ‘Jesse continues to be a very surprising fellow.’”
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