May 21, 2019

Chapin to bring magic

SUNY Cortland’s most-frequent performer to return

Photo contributed by Bob Yahn

Tom Chapin, a resident of the Hudson Valley, played more concerts at SUNY Cortland in the 1970s and ’80s than nearly any other artist, including his brother, the late Harry Chapin, college officials say. He’s coming back for a fifth show in March.

Tom Chapin is at the stage of his life where he is betwixt and between.

“This is the year where we are taking care of grandchildren,” said the Hudson Valley man, a folk singer/songwriter and children’s performer. “They are close by.”

“I finished an album last year, ‘At the Turning Point.’ I’m writing songs for the next one. I am always doing some writing.”

The musician, brother of the late Harry Chapin, has three Grammy awards of his own. He will appear 7 p.m. March 12 at SUNY Cortland’s Brown Auditorium. He’ll sing ballads, family music, folk songs and musical stories, playing guitar, banjo and autoharp.

Chapin has 27 albums to his credit. He’s been a Broadway performer and a children’s music writer/performer who won a Peabody award for his children’s show, “Make a Wish.” It was so hip it was popular with college students, he said.

He appeared in and wrote songs for the documentary “Blue Water, White Death,” the first time a great white shark was filmed under water. He’s a board member of “Why Hunger?” an international non-profit cofounded by Harry Chapin. People can bring food to the performance that will go the the college’s Cortland Cupboard for students.

SUNY Cortland is celebrating its musical heritage of bringing the likes of the Chapins, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, James Taylor, the Beach Boys and the Kinks, from the 60s to the 90s, as it celebrates its 150th history this year.


If you go

Who: Tom Chapin, three-time Grammy winning singer, songwriter
When: 7 p.m. March 12
Where: Brown Auditorium, Old Main, SUNY Cortland
Cost: $10 for general admission, discounted for all others (children under 10 are free)
Available: Tickets at the campus store at www2.cortland.edu/chapin, at the door or by calling 607-753-5574. Also at Center for the Arts of Homer box office at 72 S. Main St.

Marking the legacy

Alumni are raising money for a $30,000 wall sculpture at Corey Union to highlight the musical period of the 1960s to 1990s.

See Reddragonnetwork.org/musicallegacy to get involved. Stories, memorabilia are also being collected; contact alumni@cortland.edu.


Colleges were a regular circuit for folk and pop musicians, Chapin said. He appeared at SUNY Cortland four times.

“The college offered a really nice place to play. I think it started with Pete Seeger doing colleges, then the folk groups like the Kingston Trio,” said Chapin, who attended SUNY Plattsburgh. That campus had a committee and they would book six acts a year.

“There was a coffee house circuit and the college circuit,” Chapin said. There was a convention each year where comedians and musicians performed and college officials would sign up acts, he said.

Ralph Shortell of Dryden, retired director of Tompkins Cortland Community College campus activities, was a ‘66 SUNY Cortland alumnus. He was house president for Delta Kappa Beta and a member of the Board of Governors, which brought in entertainment for the students.

“There were a lot of folk musicians as well as big bands,” he said. The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Judy Collins, Brothers Four and Belafonte Singers appeared at the college during his years.

In the fall of ‘66, contemporary acts like Simon and Garfunkel started appearing, Shortell said. That’s when the new Circulating Fund, a program where students brought in acts and were responsible for funding them, came into play.

Shortell said there was a lot of musical activity in the bars in ‘62 to ‘66, as well. “There was a lot of competition for musicians,” he said.

Later, Shortell worked at Ithaca College and SUNY Brockport, directing social activities, before coming to TC3.

Ithaca College had John Denver, Linda Ronstadt and the Four Seasons between 1968 and 1969, he said.

“Not only did the music legacy program start at the mid to late ‘60s in Cortland, the same trend continued at other campuses,” he said. “The same year, Simon and Garfunkel and The Lettermen appeared (1965-66), we were 19- and 20-year-olds. They were our contemporaries.”

Irwin Band of Fresno, Calif., operations manager for the Small Business Administration in the Central Valley of California, was chairman of the Circulating Fund 1972 to 1976.

He brought in Billy Joel, Harry Chapin and two of his brothers, Tom and Steve, who were in the band Mount Airy.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to book Harry and book his brother’s band, to open for Harry Chapin,” Band said. “Neither knew the other would be there! It was fun. I did this for fun.”

Tom Chapin said he was opening for a lot of national acts in those days.

“I remember touring with Sha Na Na — 40 shows a summer,” he said.

The band made several appearances at SUNY Cortland. Chapin opened for Gordon Lightfoot (who also appeared at the college) and many others.

“Colleges were a place to play. They paid good money. It was one night,” Chapin said. “I played all the state schools in New York. Harry did as well.”

Chapin said he cut his teeth on these shows, learning to be a performer.

Live performances are more important now than ever, with people connecting more on the internet and not face to face, he said.

Chapin said someone asked Pete Seeger if all the benefit concerts he’d done through the years ever made a difference.

“I don’t know,” Seeger said, according to Chapin, who also did many benefits. “But I have met people with live eyes, with live hearts and live minds.”

Chapin likes the sentiment: “I really enjoy meeting people and singing for people.”

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