UPDATE 9/9: Since the posting of her obituary, below, we have learned that Brianna took her own life. She had battled depression on and off for most of her adult life but it still comes as a huge shock – and it leaves a hole in our hearts as well. – FM
Remarkably gifted and sensitive musician was also a filmmaker, poet and artist—and a beloved member of BLURT’s extended family.
By Fred Mills
I frequently find myself drafting obituaries of musicians we here at BLURT admire, from the famous to the ultra-obscure, and all the gradations in between. And once in awhile an artist’s passing hits so close to home it literally hurts to type out each word. Such is the case with Cali songwriter Brianna Lea Pruett, who passed away unexpectedly (and, according to her sister, peacefully) yesterday, Sept. 2, at the impossibly young age of 32. The cause of death has not been disclosed as of this writing.
With a lineage that includes both European Mormon settlers and Cherokee/Choctaw/Chickasaw Native Americans, Brianna was a literal DNA melting pot of pure Americana—and her channeling of classic American artists, from Elizabeth Cotton, Janis Joplin, Emmylou Harris and Roberta Flack to Elliott Smith, Woody Guthrie, Doc Watson and Tom Waits, further cements that assertion. She absorbed music with an uncommon passion and turned it back out with an uncanny sensitivity, detailing her own joys, despairs, foibles and successes within a context of genuine universality, allowing listeners into her world while helping them to gain a greater understanding of their own interiors.
She had the gift in other words. (Below: a track from her recent Daytrotter session, possibly one of her final recordings.)
Brianna released a number of records during her short lifetime including 2003 and 2004’s self-released Natural Fact and Winter Apple, plus 2011’s The Stars, The Moon, The Owl, The Cougar, and You and 2012’s Keeping You In Mind, both via the Tiger Friends Collective label. But with 2013’s Gypsy Bells, which marked a huge career upturn via a signing with the premier Native American label, Phoenix-based Canyon Records, she was clearly on a trajectory towards international prominence. The record earned glowing reviews across the board, with BLURT’s own Lee Zimmerman remarking, in a 4-out-of-5-star review, that she “is the real deal, a dewy eyed folkie who sings of dreamy desire surrounded by ethereal trappings… Comparisons could be made to Gillian Welch, Hope Sandoval and another Native American, Buffy Sainte Marie, mostly due to a certain shared intimacy. Circumspect, serene and with a decidedly low gaze, Gypsy Bells rings with its own elegiac intrigue.”
Brianna was also an active artist, poet and filmmaker; links and additional info can be gleaned at her Wikipedia page. Worth noting is that her collection of film shorts Roses For Maya Deren came out on DVD earlier this year and is also at Vimeo On Demand.
My friend and BLURT bro Stephen Judge offered a gentle remembrance of Brianna at his Facebook page earlier today. I’d like to quote from part of it because it says far more than I could ever say—and I make that comment as someone who is honored to call Brianna a friend, as I not only fell under the spell of her music (thanks to Stephen), but I also got to meet her and hang out for awhile a couple of years ago when she visited North Carolina and also gave us an intimate performance at our sister business, Schoolkids Records.
Following Stephen’s comments are some clips of Brianna. Our hearts are aching at the moment, and our condolences go out to her friends and family.
From Stephen Judge:
“The world just got a little bit less interesting, a little more painful and my heart is broken. My beloved friend, my ‘little sister’ in my musical world, one of my inspirations to life itself, Brianna Lea Pruett has suddenly passed away. I am in total shock.
“Brianna touched so many lives and I am proud to have known her and have had her touch my life so deeply. I cannot even describe in words what she meant to me and I was actually going to call her this weekend to catch up since we had not spoken in a few months. Today’s news has crushed me.
“I know my life is better for having known Bri and had her unconditional love & support and I gave that back to her in return. We had a lot of great times together but I certainly expected there to be many more to come. I expected her to be the old wise woman in the corner that I could always call and count on for advice. She was wise beyond her years. She was beautiful, passionate, loving, sincere, an amazing musician, artist and poet but most important an angel and amazing soul and wonderful friend, always there when needed and always helpful, kind and warm. I was so proud of her with her work, especially her album “Gypsy Bells” back in 2013, I had spent time with her when she was writing some of these songs and saw them progress. It will always be a special album to me and I was proud of her like an older brother would be proud of a sister.
“Rest In Peace Bri, I will miss you so much.”