Singer, songwriter, poet, painter, and filmmaker Brianna Lea Pruett passed away on Wednesday, Sept. 2. By Thursday morning, news of her death had spread around Facebook, and outlets including Blurt and the Sacramento News & Review posted tributes by that afternoon. Pruett was 32 years old.
Family members including Keely Dorran have declined to elaborate on the details of her death publicly, and no official cause of death has been stated at the time of this story. However, Facebook posts and comment threads imply that Pruett died by suicide.
A native Californian who had lived on both sides of America, Pruett had recently relocated back to her hometown of Sacramento. She had also resumed taking college-level film courses at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and was slated to complete a degree by 2018. Pruett seemed immensely proud of her Californian heritage, which included Native American Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw roots.
In fact, her ancestry led her to Canyon Records, a historically Native American record label based in Arizona. Canyon released Gypsy Bells, Pruett’s sixth LP and first with a record label, in 2013. It was the first album the label released on vinyl in 30 years. Additionally, Canyon released an EP of rearrangements from Gypsy Bells called We Come In All Colors this past March. A new Daytrotter session, released May 21, was likely her last recording.
As a musician, Pruett often sang of her heritage and family, with many references to the natural world. Stylistically reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and Carole King, Pruett’s music often featured her soft and haunting vocals over sparse, yet complex acoustic guitar picking.
After speaking with Pruett for this Best of What’s Next feature nearly two years ago, I described her as, “a force of unflappable self-assuredness,” a title that makes her sudden death even more shocking. In fact, when I publicly compared her journey and imagery to John Steinbeck, she quipped back on Twitter, “you’re the one who brought in Steinbeck… so true I wouldn’t have even seen it.”
Pruett and I stayed in touch since that feature. Almost a year later, she called me and left me a message asking if I remembered her—a selfless remark that yielded a new project we worked on together and a new friendship that extended past those deadlines. She sent handwritten notes and would text or call spontaneously, leaving multi-minute-long voicemails explaining why she was thinking of you at that precise moment. We shared our excitement for finally meeting in person when I got to the west coast later this summer.
Because inside and outside of her art, Pruett emanated warmth and generosity. She harbored no self-importance so often found in those who achieve some level of fame. Instead, she was a joyful collaborator who seemed to seek strong interpersonal relationships and spread light, equality, and respect through her work.
Here at Paste, we’re honored that we got to work with Pruett and share her music. She was a beautiful artist and kind, kindred spirit.
Watch “New Life” in her honor below.