Born Beth Nielsen in 1956 in Harlington, TX; married Ernest Chapman, 1979 (died, 1994); children: one son. Memberships: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Addresses: Record company--Artemis Records, 130 5th Ave., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10011. Website--Beth Nielsen Chapman Official Website: http://www.bethnielsenchapman.com.
Although categorized as an adult contemporary musician, Beth Nielsen Chapman aligns herself with a growing number of musicians who reject typecasting in specific musical genres: "I think folk is the root of what I do ... but I pretty much please myself as an artist," she remarked in the biography that appears on her official website. Given her own choice, she continued, she'd prefer to see all artists simply listed "in alphabetical order in the record store." With a collection of top-ten hits to her credit, she appeals to pop music fans, yet her songs are performed by musical heavyweights, including country's Willie Nelson and Trisha Yearwood, rock 'n' roll's Elton John, and Ute Lemper of jazz, all of whom have charted hits with her tunes. Although unable to read or write music, she composes by singing into a recording machine and memorizing, leaving the transcription to others.
Born Beth Nielsen in the mid-1950s in Harlington, Texas, Chapman was one of five siblings. As her father was in the Air Force, the family moved often. She studied piano as a child and although she showed aptitude for the instrument, she had no interest in learning to read music. Eventually her parents stopped the formal instruction, but Chapman's play-it-by-ear musical style outlived the lessons; she wrote her first song at age eleven.
Chapman's interest in the guitar was sparked when the family lived in Germany. Her mother had bought one as a surprise for her father, and Chapman became so entranced by the instrument as it lay hidden in her bedroom that she claimed it for her own. Unable to find instruction books were written in English, she began to experiment, improvising and combining chords that sounded pleasant to her ear. She devised her own unique naming system for the chords that she liked, calling them chord X, or chord dot-dot. She also learned by watching others play.
In the late 1970s, she moved with her parents when they retired to Montgomery, Alabama. Chapman performed at local bowling alleys with a rock 'n' roll band called Harvest (later called Harmony), whose members included guitarist Tommy Shaw. She moved to Mobile in 1979 and supported herself by playing at a piano bar at the Riverview Plaza, interspersing her own compositions between patrons' requests. She diversified her repertoire by listening to old records at the library on her days off. Not long after arriving in Mobile she met a youth counselor named Ernest Chapman, and three months later they were married. Their son, Ernest III, was born in 1981.
In Alabama, Chapman began to explore folk music and to listen to artists such as Janis Ian and Leonard Cohen; the Alabama bluegrass tradition worked its way into her repertoire as well and in time a country flavor began to permeate her music. After she recorded a debut album, Hearing It First, on Capitol in 1980, her husband encouraged her to move to a larger city with a broader music base to further her career. That notion was reinforced by Beach Boys band member Bruce "Buddy" Johnston who approached her one evening at her work and urged her to relocate to New York City or Los Angeles, where her music could be heard and better appreciated.
Given her affinity for the simpler country styles, Chapman elected to move to Nashville, the hub of the country music industry. After penning "Strong Enough to Bend" for Tanya Tucker, Chapman sang harmony on the recording. The song was a number-one hit on the country singles chart in 1988. Chapman also wrote and sang harmony on Willie Nelson's 1989 hit, "Nothing I Can Do About It Now." Waylon Jennings and German jazz singer Ute Lemper were among the many other artists who recorded her songs. Many of these were written as melodies and sounds first, using Chapman's unusual method. The music, she feels, is predisposed to certain vocalizations--specific words come later.
Chapman signed with Warner Progressive in 1990 and issued a self-titled album on the Reprise label in September. The album was a resounding success and by December had found a niche among the top five adult contemporary albums. Three of the tracks--"Walk My Way," "All I Have," and "I Keep Coming Back to You"--worked their way onto the singles chart and peaked in the top ten. A second album, You Hold the Key, was released in 1993, and two more top ten singles ensued: "In The Time It Takes" and "The Moment You Were Mine." CD Review named it one of the top five albums of the year. Sadly, while Chapman was on tour in 1993, her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, and doctors were unable to cure him. She was at his side when he died in 1994.
Chapman's 1997 album Sand and Water expressed her feelings about her loss. Joined by Bonnie Raitt on vocals and electric slide dobro, and by Michael McDonald for a duet, the album is introspective with an intangible, universal quality that touches listener's hearts. In 1998 Elton John added the album's title track to his concert repertoire as a tribute to his friend, the late Princess Diana. The album's instrumentals are fluid intermezzos for the main events, the vocals. "We all need music to calm down to," Liz Schuerman wrote in the Daily Iowan, "and this is perfect."
Another track from Sand and Water, "This Kiss," written in collaboration with Annie Roboff and Robin Lerner, became a major crossover hit. Country star Faith Hill's 1998 rendition was number one on the country charts and a top five pop hit. The song won both a Nashville Music Award and Country Music Award.
Chapman, whose other works include contributions to the movie soundtracks of Prince of Egypt and Message in a Bottle, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2000. She successfully underwent chemotherapy and in March of 2002 released Deeper Still on Artemis Records, joined by Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, among others. Chapman began a promotional tour during the first month of its release.
by Gloria Cooksey
Beth Nielsen Chapman's Career
Released debut album on Capitol, Hearing It First, 1980; signed with Reprise, 1990; self-titled second album, 1990; You Hold the Key, 1993; Sand and Water, 1997; signed with Artemis, 2000; made Artemis debut with Deeper Still, 2002.
Beth Nielsen Chapman's Awards
Country Music Association, Song of the Year for "This Kiss" (with Annie Roboff and Robin Lerner), 1999; American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) Country Song of the Year for "This Kiss" (with Annie Roboff and Robin Lerner), 1999; Nashville Music Award for "This Kiss," 1999.
- Selected discography
- Hearing It First , Capitol, 1980.
- Beth Nielsen Chapman , Reprise, 1990.
- You Hold the Key , Reprise, 1993.
- Sand and Water , Reprise, 1997.
- Greatest Hits , Reprise, 1999.
- Deeper Still , Artemis, 2002.
April 5, 2005: Chapman's album, Look, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/index.jsp, April 7, 2005.
- Billboard, March 9, 2002, p. 13.
- Daily Iowan, July 31, 1997.
- "Beth Nielsen Chapman--Biography," Reprise Records, www.wbr.com/nashville/bnc/cmp/bio.html (February 11, 2003).
- Beth Nielsen Chapman Official Website, http://www.bethnielsenchapman.com (May 2, 2003).
- "Biography: Beth Nielsen Chapman--The Song's the Thing," Beth Nielsen Chapman Online, http://www.bethnielsenchapman.net (February 12, 2003).