Alum topping folk radio with timely songs about politics, and lessons from a global pandemic

Tim Grimm has found inspiration and notoriety for his burgeoning musical career amid a tumultuous time marked by divisive politics and a global pandemic.

The 1982 Earlham College graduate’s latest single, “Gone,” was nominated for “2021 Song of the Year” by the 3,000-member Folk Alliance International, an honor he shares with renowned folk duo The Indigo Girls. The song is the final installment in a popular musical trilogy he wrote over a five-year span that examines the Donald Trump presidency and laments the loss of singer John Prine, who died from complications with the coronavirus in 2020.

Tim Grimm is a 1982 Earlham College graduate

“The songs in the trilogy represent a significant period in both my personal and political life, a significant period in our nation’s history and a watershed moment in our cultural evolution,” Grimm said. “In many ways, I strengthened my political backbone at Earlham and through pursuit of the humanities, I was given a map for a moral compass and a light leading to truth.

“I worked through humor, darkness and despair as I charted those three songs, but they all ultimately end up being different lenses into the same subject,” he said. “I hope they speak for themselves.”

Grimm is a self-proclaimed late-bloomer in the music business—his debut album was released 20 years earlier—but his love of the arts also blossomed at Earlham, where he earned a degree in political science and was a regular performer with the student-run college theatre company on campus. Fellow Earlhamite Dan Lodge-Rigal, a pianist who went on to become a physician with the Indiana University Health system, also inspired Grimm to create music. Lodge-Rigal plays piano on two songs from his latest album.

“Earlham was a significant moment in my life,” Grimm said. “It was an in-depth, intensive educational experience marked by intensive reading, analysis, criticism—the level of critical thinking we had to pursue from the get-go was remarkable,” he said. “That coupled with wonderful professors in a variety of fields, and my involvement with the theatre was a major moment in my life. Those experiences really turned me into the songwriter I am today.”

After graduating, Grimm initially continued his theatrical pursuits, first enrolling in the MFA in Theatre program at the University of Michigan and performed with a regional theatre company. After graduate school, he lived briefly in New York City before moving to Chicago, and worked at The Goodman Theatre, a major theatre company in the city’s Loop District. He also started taking lessons at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music.

Grimm has recorded 12 albums and formed several bands, including a family band composed of his wife, Jan Lucas Grimm, and their two sons, Connor and Jackson. Both of his sons perform on the recording of “Gone.” 

Grimm has released three other chart-topping songs on Folk Radio, “Gonna Be Great” (2017), “Woody’s Landlord (2016) and “King of the Folksingers” (2014), a tribute to his friend and musical legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. His album A Stranger in This Time was also the most-played album on Folk Radio in 2017.

Grimm, now 60 and living in Brown County, Indiana, is active in other creative enterprises when he isn’t touring and writing music. In 2020, he narrated WFIU’s radio drama series, The Ernie Pyle Experiment, which chronicles the pre-World War II work of the late travelling columnist for the Scripps-Howard Newspaper syndicate. Grimm’s song, “Carry Us Away,” appears in the final episode of the 13-episode series. He also appears in the 2020 film The Last Shift, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and composed music for The Revolutionist, a 2019 documentary about the life of the political activist Eugene Debs.

Despite touring all over the United States and Europe—in a normal year he plays 75-100 shows and leads group tours across Ireland and Scotland every summer— Grimm says the rural American landscapes surrounding him are at the heart of his work.

“I consider myself a Midwestern storyteller,” he said. “Indiana is at the heart of that. So is Earlham.”

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Brian Zimmerman
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