The performer, based in Athens, Ga., lost the use of his legs after an auto accident when he was 18. That trauma, and his ongoing bouts with depression, helped transform Chesnutt into a dark, brooding writer whose work has been compared to that of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner.
Michael Stipe, of the band R.E.M., first met Chesnutt in Athens. He produced Chesnutt's first two albums.
"He was able to bring levity to very dark emotions and feelings, and he had a humor that was really quite unusual," Stipe says. "I said recently that I thought he was one of our greatest songwriters, and one of our greatest voices."
Stipe spoke with host Guy Raz about his friend; for the rest of the interview, click the "Listen Now" link at the top of this page.