Iris DeMent has a unique sound all her own with a mixture of folk, country, bluegrass and gospel music. From songs about people and places to comedy, her music has carved its own place in America.
Iris Dement was born at Paragould, Arkansas on January 5, 1961 as the youngest of fourteen children. Her parents, Patrick Shaw and Flora Mae DeMent, were farmers along the St. Francis River. Times were hard for the family and Patrick was eventually forced to sell his farm. The entire family moved to Buena Park, California and then Sacramento, California.
The family loved music and were a strong influence on Iris growing up. Her father played fiddle at dances and in church. They belonged to the Pentecostal faith and music was always a big part of the services. Flora Mae DeMent played piano. Iris’s older sisters formed a gospel group known as the Dement Sisters and recorded one album.
Iris quit high school and moved to the Midwest where she supported herself by cleaning houses and working in restaurants. She also sang at nightclubs and bars to make extra money. She came to the attention of folk label Rounder/Philo Records and producer Jim Rooney. DeMent recorded her first album Infamous Angel in 1992. It was at this point that she began a working relationship with singer and songwriter John Prine. Warner Brothers rereleased the album in 1993 and a number of those songs were used in movies and television series. In 1999 the duo released a song titled In Spite of Ourselves. I have to admit I think this song is hilarious. Warning, it is a little racy.
Many of the songs made by Iris DeMent express her openness and feelings about the country. She released her second album titled My Life which featured a memorial about her father who passed away in 1992. DeMent’s third album came out in 1996. The Way I Should marked a move into political topics which drew comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt. She also wrote songs with Merle Haggard and Delbert McClinton.
Iris DeMent’s fourth album Lifeline was released in 2004. After breaking away from Warner Brothers, she had formed her own label named Flariella Records. Lifeline featured thirteen songs and old hymns. She also sang a song for the soundtrack featured on the movie “True Grit” in 2010 titled Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. This song and video could be the soundtrack of the Delta. It’s one of my favorites and always brings a tear to my eye.
On November 21, 2002 Iris married fellow singer Greg Brown from Iowa. They divide their time between Missouri and Iowa and have an adopted daughter. In 2012 she released her latest album title Sing the Delta.
Iris DeMent – Encyclopedia of Arkansas