James Victor «Vic» Chesnutt (November 12, 1964 – December 25, 2009) was an American singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia. His first album, Little, was released in 1990, but his breakthrough to commercial success didn’t come until 1996 with the release of Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, a tribute album of mainstream artists covering his songs.
Chesnutt released seventeen albums during his career, including two produced by Michael Stipe, and a 1996 release on Capitol Records. His musical style is described as a «skewed, refracted version of Americana that is haunting, funny, poignant, and occasionally mystical, usually all at once».
An adoptee, Chesnutt was raised in Zebulon, Georgia, where he first started writing songs at the age of five. At 18, a car accident left him partially paralyzed; he used a wheelchair and had limited use of his hands. In a December 1, 2009 interview with Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air, he said he was «a quadriplegic from [his] neck down», and although he had feeling and some movement in his body, he could not walk «functionally» and that, although he realized shortly afterward that he could still play guitar, he could only play simple chords. After his recovery he left Zebulon and moved to Nashville, Tennessee; the poetry he read there (by Stevie Smith, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, W. H. Auden, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson) served to inspire and influence him.
When he was 13, Chesnutt declared that he was an atheist, a position that he maintained for the rest of his life.
On December 25, 2009, Chesnutt died from an overdose of muscle relaxants that had left him in a coma in an Athens hospital. In the 2009 interview with Terry Gross, while discussing the song «Flirted with You All My Life», he said, «You know, I’ve attempted suicide three or four times. It didn’t take.»