Iris DeMent

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Iris DeMent
Iris Dement - Ron Baker - 2007.jpg
Old Settler's Music Festival - Driftwood, Texas
Background information
Birth name Iris Luella DeMent
Born (1961-01-05) January 5, 1961 (age 56)
Paragould, Arkansas, U.S.
Genres Country, folk, alternative country, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano
Years active 1991–present
Labels Rounder Records (Philo), Warner Bros., Flariella Records
Associated acts Greg Brown, John Prine

Iris Luella DeMent (born January 5, 1961) is an American singer and songwriter. DeMent's musical style includes elements of the country and folk music genres.

Early life[edit]

DeMent was born near Paragould, Arkansas, the youngest child of Pat DeMent and his second wife, Flora Mae. As the baby of the family, she was Pat DeMent's 14th child, and Flora Mae's eighth. 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[1]

Music and career[edit]

DeMent was inspired to write her first song "Our Town" by a drive through a boarded-up Midwest town, at the age of 25.[1] The song lyrics came to her "exactly as it is now", without need for re-writing, and she realized then that songwriting was her calling in life.[1] "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 and Jody Stecher.

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 and Alice Stuart, and was used in the opening scenes of the film Little Buddha. In the fall of 2015 (season 2), the song became the musical theme for the opening credits of the HBO series The Leftovers, replacing the original "Main Title Theme" composed by Max Richter.

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.[3]

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.[4]

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

Old Settler's Music Festival - Driftwood, Texas (2007)

She sang four duets with John Prine on his 1999 album In Spite of Ourselves, including the title track.[5] 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.[6]

In 2004 she released Lifeline, an album of gospel songs. It included 12 covers and one original composition ("He Reached Down").[7] 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.[8]

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.[citation needed]

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, For Worse and performed on two tracks.

Personal life[edit]

DeMent was married to Elmer McCall in 1991, but the marriage ended in divorce.

She married singer-songwriter Greg Brown on November 21, 2002. They live in rural southeast Iowa with their adopted, Russian-born daughter.[9]


Albums and chart positions[edit]

Year Album Chart Peak
1992 Infamous Angel
1993 My Life Billboard Heatseekers 16
1996 The Way I Should Billboard Heatseekers 22
2004 Lifeline FolkDJ-L Folk Radio Airplay 15
2012 Sing the Delta Billboard 200 124
2015 The Trackless Woods

Guest appearances[edit]

  • 2002: WYEP Live & Direct: Volume 4 - On Air Performances

Further reading[edit]

  • 1998: In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music, Nicholas Dawidoff, Vintage Books, ISBN 0-375-70082-X
  • 2001: Don't Get Above Your Raisin': Country Music and the Southern Working Class, Bill C. Malone, University of Illinois Press, ISBN 0-252-02678-0


  1. ^ a b c d Gross, Terry. "For Iris DeMent, Music Is The Calling That Forces Her Into The Spotlight". NPR's Fresh Air. National Public Radio. Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  2. ^ Ziegler, Chris (August 9, 2012). "Iris DeMent: Ass-Kicking, Outlaw Country Singer Talks Growing Up in OC". OC Weekly. 
  3. ^ "The 37th Grammy Nominations". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. January 6, 1995. Retrieved February 24, 2015. 
  4. ^ Cantwell, David (Nov–Dec 1996). "Homespun of the Brave". No Depression. 
  5. ^ Christgau, Robert (September 28, 1999). "Really Glad To Be Here". Village Voice. 
  6. ^ Lankford, Jr., Ronnie D. "Ralph Stanley, Clinch Mountain Sweethearts". AllMusic. 
  7. ^ Cantwell, David (Nov–Dec 2004). "All that living will allow". No Depression. 
  8. ^ Schneider, Marc (June 28, 2012). "Iris DeMent to 'Sing the Delta', First New Music in 16 Years". 
  9. ^ Dougherty, Steve (September 27, 2012). "Church-Bred and Honky-Tonk Sanctified". The Wall Street Journal. 

External links[edit]