Jesse Winchester performing at the 2011 New Orleans Jazz Festival. (Source: Robbie Mendelson/Wikimedia Commons)
(RNN) - Rumors started Sunday night that musician and songwriter Jesse Winchester had died. You may not know who he is, but the chances are good you've heard some of his songs.
Winchester's wife told a Memphis newspaper that the rumors were false, though the 69-year-old has battled esophageal cancer for years and has been placed in hospice care at home.
"As we like to say, he is still teaching us a thing or two about dignity and grace," Cindy Winchester said.
Fellow artist Janis Ian wrote a lovely, if premature remembrance on Sunday night:
"RIP Jesse Winchester. As underrated a singer as Chet Baker. As underrated a guitarist as Willie Nelson. A man who held the audience in the palm of his hand without moving an inch. One of the best songwriters on earth..." Ian wrote.
Winchester wrote songs that were covered by The Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffett, John Denver, Joan Baez, Wynonna Judd, Reba McIntyre, Elvis Costello and many others.
He was born in 1944 in Louisiana and grew up in north Mississippi. He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and fled to Canada in 1967. It was there he began making a living as a musician and was noticed by Robbie Robertson of The Band, who got him a record deal and produced his first album.
During his years in Montreal, Winchester wrote often about his home state he believed he'd never see again, including Biloxi,which appeared on his eponynomously titled first album and was covered by Buffett. The haunting Mississippi, You're On My Mind was covered by Jerry Jeff Walker and appeared on Winchester's 1974 album Learn to Love It.
He came to love his adopted country, where he married and had three children. He became a Canadian citizen in 1973. He continued to live there until 2002, even after President Jimmy Carter pardoned and granted amnesty to all those who fled to Canada rather than fight in Vietnam.
He sang in a pure, tenor voice that Rolling Stone called "the best of the decade" in 1977. He was an accomplished guitarist, played multiple instruments and punctuated his live performances with dancing that looked like he didn't have a bone in his body. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007.
In all, he released 10 studio albums. His last, Love Filling Station, came out in 2009.
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