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Iris DeMent

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Iris DeMent
Iris DeMent at Old Settler's Music Festival – Driftwood, Texas, 2007
Background information
Birth nameIris Luella DeMent
Born (1961-01-05) January 5, 1961 (age 63)
Paragould, Arkansas, U.S.
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, piano
Years active1991–present
LabelsRounder Records (Philo), Warner Bros., Flariella Records

Iris Luella DeMent (born January 5, 1961)[1] is an American singer-songwriter and musician. DeMent's musical style includes elements of folk, country and gospel. She has been nominated for a Grammy Award twice.

Early life[edit]

DeMent was born in Paragould, Arkansas,[2] the 14th and youngest child of Pat DeMent (1910–1992) and wife Flora Mae (1918–2011).[3] Iris's mother had harbored dreams of going to Nashville and starting a singing career. Although she put those plans on hold to get married, her singing voice was an inspiration and influence for her youngest daughter Iris.[4] DeMent was raised in a Pentecostal household. Her family moved from Arkansas to the Los Angeles area when she was three. While growing up, she was exposed to and influenced by country and gospel music.[5] Singing at age five as one of "the little DeMent sisters", Iris had a bad experience when she forgot her words during her first performance, which caused her to avoid performing in public for some time.[4]

DeMent left high school in the tenth grade to work full time at a Kmart store. Her parents required her to get a GED high school diploma. She later went with a boyfriend to Topeka, Kansas, where she attended Washburn University.There she started writing after receiving positive feedback from her English composition professor.[6]

Music and career[edit]

DeMent was inspired to write her first song, "Our Town," at age 25 by a drive through a boarded-up Midwest town.[4] The song lyrics came to her "exactly as it is now," with no need for re-writing, and she realized then that songwriting was her calling.[4] "Our Town" was played during the closing scene for the final episode (July 26, 1995) of CBS's television series Northern Exposure. The song has been recorded by Kate Rusby, Kate Brislin & Jody Stecher and Trampled by Turtles.

Her first album, Infamous Angel, was released in 1992 on the Rounder-Philo label and explored such themes as religious skepticism, small-town life, and human frailty. "Let the Mystery Be" has been covered by a number of artists, including 10,000 Maniacs (whose 'Unplugged' version featured Talking Heads' David Byrne), as well as Alice Stuart. It was also used in the opening scenes of the film Little Buddha. In the fall of 2015, a version of "Let the Mystery Be" from the Transatlantic Sessions became the musical theme for the opening credits of the HBO series The Leftovers, replacing the original "Main Title Theme" composed by Max Richter, and it would once again serve as the opening theme for the series finale.

In her second album, My Life, released in 1994, she continued the personal and introspective approach. The record is dedicated to her father, who died two years earlier. My Life was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Folk Album category.[7]

DeMent's third album, The Way I Should, was released in 1996. Featuring the protest song "Wasteland of the Free", it is DeMent's most political work. It covers topics such as sexual abuse, religion, government policy, and Vietnam.[8]

DeMent sang the duet "Bell Bottomed Tear" as part of The Beautiful South's Much Later with Jools live special in 1997. [9]

In 1998, the song "Iris" by the rock band Goo Goo Dolls was named after her. Singer and songwriter John Rzeznik had already written the lyrics to the song but was having a problem naming it. He opened up the LA Weekly and noticed that DeMent was playing in town and thought her name was beautiful and then decided to name it after her.[10]

Iris DeMent at Old Settler's Music FestivalDriftwood, Texas, 2007

She sang four duets with John Prine on his 1999 album In Spite of Ourselves, including the title track.[11] She appeared in the 2000 film Songcatcher, playing the character Rose Gentry and singing on the soundtrack as well. Her duet with Ralph Stanley on "Ridin' That Midnight Train" was the opening track on his 2001 album, Clinch Mountain Sweethearts: Ralph Stanley & Friends.[12]

In 2004 she released Lifeline, an album of gospel songs. It included 12 covers and one original composition ("He Reached Down").[13] It was the first album she released on Flariella Records, a label she started herself and named after her mother.[14] A shortened version of her rendition of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" was later used in the closing credits of the Coen brothers' film True Grit. On October 2, 2012, DeMent released her first album of original songs in 16 years, Sing the Delta.[15]

DeMent has sung duets with Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris and is featured on the albums of many other performers. She sang the Merle Haggard song "Big City" on Tulare Dust: A Songwriters' Tribute to Merle Haggard. She has made frequent appearances on Garrison Keillor's radio show A Prairie Home Companion. DeMent contributed harmony vocals to "Pallbearer", a song from country artist Josh Turner's 2012 album Punching Bag. [16]

In 2015, DeMent released The Trackless Woods, an album based upon and inspired by the words of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, on her own Flariella record label. She reunited with John Prine in 2016 for his second duets album For Better, or Worse and performed on two tracks. DeMent received the Americana Trailblazer Award at the 2017 Americana Music Honors & Awards.

DeMent's 2023 album Workin' on a World was No. 4 on Robert Christgau's Dean's List for that year.[17]

Personal life[edit]

DeMent was married to Elmer McCall in 1991. The marriage ended in divorce in 1999.[18]

She married singer-songwriter Greg Brown on November 21, 2002. They live in rural southeast Iowa with their daughter, whom they adopted at 6 years old in 2005 from Russia.[19][20]


Albums and chart positions[edit]

Year Album Label Chart Peak
1992 Infamous Angel Philo
1994 My Life Warner Bros. Billboard Heatseekers 16
1996 The Way I Should Warner Bros. Billboard Heatseekers 22
2004 Lifeline Flariella FolkDJ-L Folk Radio Airplay 15
2012 Sing the Delta Flariella Billboard 200 124
2015 The Trackless Woods Flariella
2023 Workin' on a World Flariella


Year Title Label Songs
1992 "Our Town" Warner Bros. "Our Town" / "God May Forgive You (But I Won't)" / "Heart's Highway"
1994 "Sweet is the Melody" Warner Bros. "Sweet is the Melody" / "French Boy" (live) / "Keep on the Sunny Side" (live)
1996 "Wasteland of the Free" Warner Bros. "Wasteland of the Free" (edit) / "The Way I Should" / "Letter To Mom" / "Wasteland of the Free" (album version)

Music videos[edit]

Year Title Director
1992 "Our Town"

Other contributions[edit]

Primary/contributing artist[edit]

As composer[edit]

  • 1998: The Caravans – Glamorous Heart Motel Blues (Fury) – track 1: "Our Town"
  • 2000: Grace GriffithMinstrel Song (Blix Street) – track 2: "My Life"
  • 2001: Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio – Inland Empires (12XU) – track 3: "Calling For You"; track 7, "My Life"
  • 2002: Aselin DebisonSweet is the Melody (Odyssey Records) – track 1: "Sweet is the Melody"
  • 2002: John Wright – Dangerous Times (Big Sky) – track 1: "When My Mornin' Comes Around"
  • 2007: Doug CoxCanadian Borderline (Malahat Mountain) – track 2: "Let The Mystery Be"
  • 2012: Megan Reilly – The Well (Carrot Top) – track 8: "After You're Gone"
  • 2017: Bonnie 'Prince' BillyBest Troubador (Domino) – track 18: "No Time To Cry"

Also appears on[edit]

  • 1990: Emmylou HarrisBrand New Dance (Reprise) – "Wheels of Love"; "Brand New Dance" (harmony vocalv)
  • 1990: Jann Browne – Tell Me Why (WEA/Atlantic/Curb Records) – Lovebird (harmony vocal)
  • 1991: Jann Browne – It Only Hurts When I Laugh – unknown track(s)
  • 1993: Nanci GriffithOther Voices, Other Rooms (Elektra) – "Ten Degrees and Getting Colder"; "Are You Tired of Me My Darling?" (harmony vocal)
  • 1994: Tom PaxtonWearing the Time (Sugar Hill) – "Along the Verdigris" (backing vocal)
  • 1997: The Beautiful SouthLiar's Bar CD single (A&M/GO! Discs Ltd) – "You’ve Done Nothing Wrong" (harmony vocal, "Later With Jools Holland", live)
  • 1997: Tom RussellThe Long Way Around (Hightone) – track 3: "Big Water"; track 17: "Box of Visions" (duets)
  • 1998: Randy ScruggsCrown of Jewels (Reprise) – "Wildwood Flower" (duet with Emmylou Harris); "City of New Orleans" (backing vocal)
  • 1998: Jeff BlackBirmingham Road (BMG/Arista) – "Ghosts in the Graveyard" (backing vocal); a second unknown track
  • 1999: John PrineIn Spite of Ourselves (Oh Boy) – track 1: "(We're Not) The Jet Set"; track 9: "Let's Invite Them Over"; track 12: "We Could"; track 14: "In Spite of Ourselves" (duets)
  • 1999: Tom Russell – The Man from God Knows Where (Hightone) – "Wayfarin’ Stranger" (lead vocal); "Patrick Russell" (duet with Tom Russell); "Ambrose Larsen" (duet with Sondre Bratland); "Acres of Corn" (lead vocal); "The Old Rugged Cross" (duet with Kari Bremnes); "When Irish Girls Grow Up" (duet with Dolores Keane); "Throwin’ Horseshoes at the Moon" (duet with Tom Russell); "Wayfarin’ Stranger (revisited)" (lead vocal); "Love Abides" (duet with Tom Russell)
  • 1999: Steve Earle and The Del McCoury BandThe Mountain (E-Squared) – track 4: "I'm Still in Love with You" (duet with Steve Earle)
  • 2001: Delbert McClintonNothing Personal (New West Records) – "Birmingham Tonight" (harmony vocal)
  • 2001: Keith SykesDon't Count Us Out (Syren Records) – "It's Just You"; "Lavender Blue" (duets)
  • 2001: Ralph Stanley and Friends – Clinch Mountain Sweethearts (Rebel) – track 1: "Ridin' That Midnight Train"; track 11: "Trust Each Other" (duets)
  • 2002: Nitty Gritty Dirt BandWill the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume III (Capitol) – track 1-05, "Mama's Opry" (lead vocal)
  • 2007: Teddy ThompsonUpfront & Down Low (Verve Forecast) – track 6: "My Heart Echoes"
  • 2010: John Prine – In Person & On Stage (Oh Boy) – track 3: "In Spite of Ourselves"; track 12: "Unwed Fathers" (duets, live)
  • 2012: Josh TurnerPunching Bag (MCA Nashville) – track 9: "Pallbearer" (background vocals)
  • 2016: The Pines – Above the Prairie (Red House) – unknown track
  • 2016: John Prine – For Better, or Worse (Oh Boy) – track 1: "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out"; track 13: "Mr. & Mrs. Used to Be"
  • 2019: Ana Egge – single: "Ballad for the Poor Child" (duet with Ana Egge)


  1. ^ "UPI Almanac for Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019". United Press International. January 5, 2019. Archived from the original on January 5, 2019. Retrieved September 6, 2019. singer Iris DeMent in 1961 (age 58)
  2. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Iris DeMent Biography". AllMusic.com. Archived from the original on July 20, 2018. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  3. ^ Anderson, Berry (January 4, 2011). "A birthday toast to Iris DeMent". The Pitch. Kansas City, Missouri. Archived from the original on September 6, 2019. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d DeMent, Iris. "For Iris DeMent, Music Is The Calling That Forces Her Into The Spotlight". Fresh Air (Interview). Interviewed by Terry Gross. National Public Radio. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  5. ^ Ziegler, Chris (August 9, 2012). "Iris DeMent: Ass-Kicking, Outlaw Country Singer Talks Growing Up in OC". OC Weekly. Archived from the original on July 14, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  6. ^ Clancy, Sean. "HIGH PROFILE: Iris DeMent", Arkansas Democrat Gazette newspaper, May 21, 2023.
  7. ^ "The 37th Grammy Nominations". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. January 6, 1995. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  8. ^ Cantwell, David (November–December 1996). "Homespun of the Brave". No Depression. Archived from the original on June 5, 2013.
  9. ^ The Beautiful South feat Iris DeMent - Bell Bottomed Tear - Later With Jools Holland BBC2 1997, retrieved October 31, 2023
  10. ^ Rock, Henry Yates 2019-01-31T13:15:00Z Classic (January 31, 2019). "The Story Behind The Song: Iris by Goo Goo Dolls". Classic Rock Magazine. Retrieved February 26, 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Christgau, Robert (September 28, 1999). "Really Glad To Be Here". Village Voice.
  12. ^ Lankford, Ronnie D. Jr. "Ralph Stanley, Clinch Mountain Sweethearts". AllMusic.
  13. ^ Cantwell, David (November–December 2004). "All that living will allow". No Depression. Archived from the original on August 21, 2012.
  14. ^ Hill, Jack W. (March 3, 2017). "Iris DeMent (1961–)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  15. ^ Schneider, Marc (June 28, 2012). "Iris DeMent to 'Sing the Delta', First New Music in 16 Years". Billboard.
  16. ^ "Shazam". Shazam. Retrieved October 31, 2023.
  17. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Dean's List: 2023". And it don't stop. Robert Christgau. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  18. ^ "Iris DeMent Biography". musicianguide.com. Retrieved October 31, 2023.
  19. ^ Dougherty, Steve (September 27, 2012). "Church-Bred and Honky-Tonk Sanctified". The Wall Street Journal.
  20. ^ Masters, Clay (December 27, 2014) For Pieta Brown, Music Is A Father-Daughter Dance NPR Music. Retrieved June 9, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

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