Singer-Songwriter Justin Townes Earle Dies At 38

Justin Townes Earle. Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

Americana music star Justin Townes Earle died yesterday (Aug. 23) at age 38.

Earle was a singer, songwriter, recording artist and producer who released eight albums and won awards from the Americana Music Association. He was the son of celebrated singer-songwriter Steve Earle and the nephew of critically acclaimed Nashville tunesmith Stacy Earle.

Born in Nashville in 1982, Justin Townes Earle was raised by his mother, Carol Ann Hunter. He began performing in local clubs as a teenager, including weekly gigs at Springwater. He also played in the rock band The Distributors and in an acoustic group called The Swindlers.

He joined his father’s road band The Dukes when he was 20. He can be heard on Steve Earle’s 2003 live album Just an American Boy.

But both father and son agreed that Justin should chart his own course as an artist and not be tied to his father’s stardom.

Justin Townes Earle issued an EP titled Yuma in 2007 and his first full-length album, The Good Life, in 2008. His style at the time was low-key and poetic, with a bluesy tinge. His second CD, 2009’s Midnight at the Movies, led to his being named Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2010 Americana Music Awards. The record was nominated as Album of the Year and he also received an Artist of the Year AMA nomination.

He came into his own as an artist with 2010’s Harlem River Blues. More fully produced with R&B influences than his earlier efforts, the record made him an Americana star. Its title tune was named Song of the Year at the AMA’s 2011 awards show, where Justin Townes Earle was also again nominated as Artist of the Year.

He performed “Harlem River Blues” on Late Night with David Letterman with Jason Isbell backing him on guitar. The singer-songwriter also appeared at Bonnaroo, MerleFest and the Grand Ole Opry.

In 2012, he produced Unfinished Business, an album by rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson. He wrote one of its songs and sang a duet with her on the collection.

Like his father, Justin Townes Earle experienced periodic setbacks due to substance-abuse issues. But his disc output continued steadily with 2012’s Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, 2014’s Single Mothers, 2015’s Absent Fathers and 2017’s Kids in the Street.

In 2017, he toured with the acclaimed Canadian group The Sadies serving as his opening act and backing band.

Justin Townes Earle turned a promising artistic corner with his 2019 album The Saint of Lost Causes. Its character-driven songs touched on social issues and brought new depth to his rootsy style. He toured in support of the record until the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Justin Townes Earle married his wife Jean Marie in 2013. They became parents to daughter Etta in 2017.

No cause of death has been announced. Funeral arrangements are also unknown at press time.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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