Instruments: Vocals, Songwriter
Date of Birth: 1956
Place of Birth: Montgomery, Alabama

1999 Music Creator's Award

Chapman's musical eclecticism found its roots in her childhood, growing up in an Air Force family. Her experiences with many different cultures helped to feed her appreciation and sense of wonder for life's many contrasts.

During those developmental years, Chapman grew to appreciate the compositional richness of greats like Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, as well as soaking the sounds of Sixties R&B and The Beatles.

It was the advent of the early seventies singer/songwriter movement that sparked Chapmans' desire to express herself as a writer. Through the sounds of Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Carole King and James Taylor, Chapman defined her artistic voice.

As a result of various good fortunes in the Muscle Shoals music community, Chapman recorded her first album, Hearing It First, in 1980. Though the album (which was produced by the legendary Barry Beckett) achieved little commercial success, it helped establish Chapman as an artist to watch.

After Hearing It First, Chapman took time off to devote her energies to raising a family, honing her musical skills and expanding her tastes by absorbing the work of artists such as Hank Williams Sr., Emmylou Harris, John Prine and Willie Nelson.

Encouragement from family, friends and music industry professionals helped Chapman re-locate to Nashville in 1985. Shortly thereafter, Chapman began to write what would become a string of substantial song cuts for a widely contrasting range of artists, from the gritty country of Waylon Jennings to the jazzy cabaret of Ute Lemper. Along the way, Chapman scored four #1 hits (Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, Lorrie Morgan, Alabama), along with dozens of hit singles and album cuts.

In 1988, Chapman's talents came to the attention of Jim Ed Norman, president of Warner/Reprise Nashville and producer of many great pop and country records. Norman understood that Chapman's artistic potential lay beyond the realm of the country music world, signing her to Reprise and producing her 1990 pop debut Beth Nielsen Chapman. That album spawned four Top Twenty AC hits, three of which went Top Ten.

Chapman's 1997 release "Sand and Water" which dealt with the death of her husband, was covered by Elton John during his U.S. tour as an expression of his hurt over the loss of Princess Diana.

The 1998 Chapman song "This Kiss", recorded by Faith Hill, held the #1 position on the Country Charts for many weeks. The song received a 1999 Grammy Nomination for Best Country Song.


Song Title Recording Artist Chart* Year
This Kiss Faith Hill 1 1998
Five Minutes Lorrie Morgan 1 1990
Nothing I Can Do About It Now Willie Nelson 1 1989
Strong Enough To Bend Tanya Tucker 1 1988
Happy Girl Martina McBride 2 1998
Here We Are Alabama 2 1992
All The Reasons Why Highway 101 5 1989
Somebody Else's Moon Colin Raye 5 1993
You Say You Will Trisha Yearwood 12 1993
Ain't Necessarily So Willie Nelson 17 1990
Down On My Knees Trisha Yearwood 19 1993
Maybe That's All It Takes Don Williams 22 1990
Baby I Want It Girls Next Door 26 1986

*Chart position is based on Billboard Magazine Pop, Country, R&B, & A/C Charts. Other music industry charts may have shown higher chart positions.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Longtime fans of Beth Nielsen Chapman will notice that the black & white portrait on the cover of her new CD, Back To Love, bears a striking resemblance to the artwork on her self-titled 1990 album. Happily, the similarity doesn't end there. Over the course of 11 stunning new compositions, Back To Love brings the acclaimed, Nashville-based singer/songwriter full circle, back to the soul-deep songwriting style that made her famous and provided big hits for herself and covers by an impressive and eclectic group of artists including Faith Hill, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Neil Diamond, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, to name but a few. And while the soaring melodies, bell-clear vocals and heart-penetrating lyrics are reassuringly in place, there's a new depth to the singer and to the songs, reflecting every turn in the tragic-and-triumphant road Nielsen Chapman has traveled. For legions of tried-and-true fans, this new release represents an exuberant return to the style that distinguished some of her best work and produced some of her biggest hits. For newcomers to the magic and the music of Beth Nielsen Chapman, Back To Love is a bright new chapter in her songbook of life’s revelations.

"After the rigorous work that went into my last project, Prism, this record felt like something pure, sweet and natural, a feeling like coming home, back into a place that feels deeply familiar. It's been a joyful record to make," Nielsen Chapman says. (2007’s Prism: The Human Family Songbook was a culturally rich double CD sung in nine languages.)

And joy permeates the proceedings from the very first notes of "Hallelujah," the album's leadoff track, a collaboration with singer/songwriter/Americana stalwart Darrell Scott that rocks headlong into love's central dilemmas. The same duo delivers "I Can See Me Loving You," the freewheeling romp that follows. With Nielsen Chapman wielding her recently acquired bouzouki and Scott supplying on-the-fly harmonies and lightning swift licks, the playful musical repartee between these two world-class artists is one of the real highlights of Back To Love.

"You can hear me laughing, because just before we launched into the song, as it was being counted off, I said, “Darrell, sing the harmony live!”   Since we hadn’t rehearsed it, Darrell wasn't sure where exactly I was going with the melody and he just slid all around completely off the top of his head, careening around the corner on the racetrack of the tune," Beth says. "I was just cracking up."

Those kinds of unedited, spontaneous musical outbursts lighten up the weightier moments on Back To Love and serve to highlight the poetic potency of her lyrics. Music City iconoclast Danny Flowers, co-writer of "More Than Love," tosses a woozy slide guitar into that song's mix, setting up the dig-down-into-love’s-hard-work-to-its-silver-lining lyric against a sly, hip-shaking groove. Though she wrote six of the album's songs by herself – including two of the album's most powerful songs, "How We Love" and set-closer "The Path Of Love" – Beth has certainly chosen some of the most respected writers to collaborate with on the remaining five tracks.

Born in Harlingen, Texas, smack in the middle of a family of five children, to an Air Force Major and a registered nurse, Beth grew up all over the place – a self-described “geographical mutt.”   Her family finally settled in Alabama in 1969 when Beth was just going into the ninth grade, moving there from Munich, Germany. Crossing back over the ocean with her came her first guitar, a German made “Framus” that, though intended as a gift for Father’s Day, ended up in her room. Writing songs was immediate for her from the first chords she picked out by ear.  “With the Vietnam war blazing, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death still fresh in the news, and my heart reeling from the shock of a school trip to Dachau (a concentration camp in Munich), the bubble of my childhood’s view of the world burst and I started to sense the existential depth of human suffering for the first time,”she recalls. “Then my Dad came home with the orders that we were moving to Montgomery, Alabama, the hotbed of the civil rights movement! I held onto that guitar for dear life!”

Alabama proved to be a place of much richness for Beth.She lived in Montgomery until she married in 1979 and relocated to Mobile, Alabama. (She has since received a special award from The Alabama Music Hall Of Fame and was recently the recipient of The Distinguished Artist Award from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.)

Hearing It First, her debut album, was recorded in Muscle Shoals and produced by Barry Beckett. Alas, it was released by Capitol Records in 1980 – in the midst of the disco craze. So Beth took a few years off and gave birth to a son, Ernest Chapman III.  In 1985, with the help of music legends Mac MacAnally and Barry Beckett, her young family made the move to Nashville.

By 1990, she was writing #1 hits for Tanya Tucker and Willie Nelson and was signed as a pop artist to Warner/Reprise.  Her first two albums for the label were critically lauded, sold respectably and spawned eight AC pop hits, earning her a devoted fan base at home and overseas, particularly in the UK, where she has consistently been embraced by the vastly popular BBC Radio 2.

In 1993, Nielsen Chapman's world was turned upside down when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Three years after his death, the singer released a third album, 1997’s Sand And Water. The album's title song, a highly moving meditation on living, dying and surviving, took on a life of its own, bringing hope and comfort to countless people struggling with grief. It was performed by Elton John on his 1997 U.S. tour to honor the memory of Princess Diana. Then, in 2000, just as she was finishing a new record called Deeper Still, incredibly, Nielsen Chapman faced her own battle with breast cancer. Deeper Still, though not released until 2002, after her treatments and recovery, is filled with songs that seemed to foreshadow her diagnosis.

"It’s happened so many times in my writing - the songs have preceded the events," says Beth, who was named Nashville NAMMY’s 1999 Songwriter of the Year. "Seventy percent of Sand and Water was written a year and a half before my husband was diagnosed. I often just follow these lyric wisps and shadows until things start to form and take shape.  So I can be working on a song with lines that are just coming together and not really know yet what I’m writing it about.  It was amazing to me when it happened again with Deeper Still.”

Beth’s music has been used in numerous television shows and appeared on the soundtracks for movies such as “The Prince of Egypt,” “Message In A Bottle,” “The Rookie,” “Where The Heart Is” and “Practical Magic.” A renowned and in-demand songwriting teacher and creative coach, Nielsen Chapman has taught at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and Berklee School of Music. So she knows more than a little about writer's block and how to deal with it. But when, after eight months of effort, she found herself unable to complete lyrics for some of Back To Love's key songs, her best friend and most frequent co-writer, Annie Roboff (with whom she co-wrote the Faith Hill chart-topper "This Kiss," which garnered a GRAMMY® nomination and was ASCAP’s 1999 Song Of The Year), sensed that something was very wrong.

"I was sitting and waiting, but lyrically, the writing was not happening," she remembers. "It was Annie who said, 'Something is not right.'"

One of Back To Love's solo-written songs, "Shadows," that reads as a kind of mirror image of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," seemed once again to portend trouble. “I remember telling Annie after finishing ‘Shadows’ how I was thinking ‘Wow, I almost sound like…I don’t know…like I’m under a rock or weighted down by something.’”

Doctors subsequently discovered that a fast growing but benign brain tumor was affecting the language center of her brain. After a successful operation, Beth’s creative muse returned in a rush.

"I woke up the morning after surgery and got the two lines I’d been struggling to figure out for 'How We Love,' just like that,” she says. “It was like my spirit was saying, 'Okay, we're back in business.'

“And one of my favorite songs on this collection, a song Annie and I had been working on for several years, “Even As It All Goes By,” just fell into place following my surgery. After countless hours of rewrites and brick walls between me and finishing that lyric….once the pressure was relieved, the creativity rebounded!” she explains. (“Even As It All Goes By” closed out 2009 as BBC Radio 2’s “Record of the Week” and was the only new single added to the “A List” of BBC Radio 2’s playlist at the top of 2010.)

"Happiness," one of the centerpieces of Back To Love, also has a history that spans the years.In 2000, during the most difficult time of her chemo treatments for breast cancer, and in the darkest of moods, she started to write this song.

"I was totally exhausted from the treatments, so I thought, 'Well, I'm just going to personify happiness. If it walked through the door, what would it look like?’” she says.

Nine years later, she scrawled the final lines of  “Happiness” on a paper towel in her kitchen, during that creative burst following her surgery.

Despite the ups and downs and twists and turns, Nielsen Chapman's spirit is stronger than ever. These days she's happily almost married, and, not surprisingly, her longtime love affair has provided plenty of grist for the creative mill, including two of Back To Love's standout songs, the sublime torch ballad, "I'll Give My Heart" (co-written with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench), and "I Need You Love," which eloquently details the singer's quirks and flaws while celebrating and honoring the man that loves her anyway.

"There's this beautiful thing that happens when two people stay together, each one showing up for the other when it most matters," she says. "That is an amazing thing, and I write about it at the same time I’m learning how to dance in the middle of it."

Resilient in the face of tragedy, buoyed by hope and healed by the music she's constantly creating, Beth Nielsen Chapman is happier (and healthier!) than ever, and – as Back To Love vividly attests – doing the best work of her life.

"Having been off on these different musical journeys, I’ve loved this deep dive back into songs about human love and the human heart," says Nielsen Chapman, who serves on the Advisory Board for Peacejam as well as on the Board of Directors of Healthy Child Healthy World. "I've always been drawn to songs that are three-minute peepholes into the depth of our being human, the attraction and the tragedies and the thirst for humor and how we grow and learn and recover from it all; to me it all comes back to love."




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