One of Nashville’s most successful songwriters for more than two decades, Gary Chapman has also made a name for himself as a performer and radio/television personality. But for Chapman, 1999 brought major losses: the end of his 17-year marriage to singer Amy Grant and the loss of his high-profile job as host of cable channel The Nashville Network’s (TNN) Prime Time Country. However, the new millennium brought Chapman a new marriage and the promise of new career opportunities.
During the last days of the twentieth century, Chapman told the Tennessean (Nashville) that despite the personal and professional difficulties of 1999, “I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life.” Pausing to reflect for just a moment, he corrected himself: “Happy’s not correct. I’m more joyful. There’s a profound difference between happiness and joy. Happiness for me is based on things going the way I think they should. Joy is found in realizing the profound beauty of the mundane. I’m more joyful than I’ve ever been in my life.”
Born Gary Winther Chapman on August 19, 1957, in Waurika, OK; married singer Amy Grant, 1982; children: Matthew Garrison, Gloria Mills, and Sarah Cannon; divorced, 1999; married Jennifer Pittman, 2000.
Played in rock band during high school; moved to Nashville, TN, joined the Rambos, a gospel group, and began writing songs for other performers; Chapman’s “My Father’s Eyes,” recorded by Amy Grant, went to number one, 1979; has released several albums as a performer including Sincerely Yours, 1981; Happenin’..Live, 1983; Light Inside, 1994; Shelter, 1996; and Outside, 1999.
Awards: Multiple Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association (GMA) including Songwriter of the Year, 1982; Male Vocalist of the Year and Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year, 1996; and Country Album of the Year, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Reunion Records, 741 Cool Springs Blvd., Franklin, TN 37067. Booking — Richard De La Font Agency, 4845 South Sheridan Road, Suite 505, Tulsa, OK 74145-5719. Website-Gary Chapman Official Website: http://www.garychapman.net.
though he was encouraged by family to follow in his father’s footsteps, he secretly dreamed of becoming an entertainer throughout most of his childhood. In high school, he joined a school-sanctioned rock band. Bowing to family pressures, he headed off to Bible college after finishing high school, but his heart was not in it, and he dropped out. Even at college, he sought out every possible opportunity to perform. Of his brief stay at college, Chapman said in comments at the Richard De La Font Agency website: “I thought I would be a preacher, and I went to Bible school for a year and a half. I jokingly say God called me out of Bible school, but I really think He did.” Chapman found that he could spread the message of Christianity through song far more effectively than through the spoken word.
After leaving college, Chapman moved to Nashville and joined the Rambos, a well-established gospel singing group. He also began writing songs and peddling them to other performers around Nashville. In 1979, Contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant recorded Chapman’s “My Father’s Eyes.” The song eventually went to number one, and even more importantly, brought the singer and songwriter together. The couple married in 1982. In 1981, singer T.G. Sheppard had a hit with Chapman’s “Finally,” which also went to number one on the country charts. Other performers who have recorded Chapman’s songs include Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell, Steve Wari-ner, Kathy Troccoli, Vanessa Williams, Lee Greenwood, and Russ Taff. In 1982, the Gospel Music Association (GMA) presented Chapman with a Dove Award for Songwriter of the Year.
Chapman released his first album as a performer in 1981. Entitled Sincerely Yours, the album was released on the Lion & Lamb recording label and fell into the genre of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), which musically sounds very much like pop music but has lyrics of a religious or inspirational nature. Two years later, a second Chapman album—Happening Live —was released on the Lion & Lamb label. In 1987, Chapman hit the road as the opening act for a concert tour with Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
In the early 1990s, Chapman switched recording labels, signing with Reunion Records, based in Franklin, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. His 1994 album for Reunion, The Light Inside, won a Grammy nomination as Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album and a Dove Award nomination for Chapman as Male Vocalist of the Year. The album featured the hit singles “Treasure,” “Sweet Jesus,” and “Sweet Glow of Mercy,” the last of which hit number one on the gospel music charts. Chapman also won honors in 1994 for his work as co-producer of Songs from the Loft, a Dove Award-winning album containing songs by Grant and other Contemporary Christian Music artists including Ashley Cleveland, Susan Ashton, and Michael W. Smith. The album was recorded in the studio Chapman and Grant had had built into a barn on their farm outside Nashville.
Although 1994 had been a particularly productive year for both Chapman and Grant, 1995 brought new opportunities for Chapman. He served as host of the annual Dove Awards ceremony that year and later began hosting a live concert series entitled Sam’s Place at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, one of the original homes of the Grand Ole Opry. Later in 1995, Chapman hosted specials based on the Sam’s Place theme for the Nashville Network. The following year, in a hint of things to come, Nashville Scene, a local weekly covering the Music City’s entertainment scene and lifestyle news, named Chapman Best Future Talk Show Host.
Chapman’s next solo album for Reunion, Shelter, released in 1996, produced the number one gospel hit “One of Two” and garnered a Grammy nomination as Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. Chapman also won the Dove Award as Male Vocalist of the Year in 1996 in addition to three other Dove Awards that year—Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year, Special Event Album of the Year, and another for his involvement with the Songs from the Loft project. The Nashville Network, impressed with Chapman’s performance on the Sam’s Place specials the previous year, decided to give him a tryout as host of its popular Prime Time Country. After an eight-show, on-camera trial run, the network made it official, naming him the show’s new host.
Things were going well for Chapman on the home front as well. At home on their sprawling farm in Franklin, Tennessee, not far from Nashville, he and Grant enjoyed the country life with their three children, Matt, Millie, and Sarah. When he could find the spare time, Chapman went flying. He owns a helicopter and has his pilot’s license for fixed-wing aircraft.
Late in 1997, Chapman’s Christmas album, entitled This Gift, was released on the Reunion label. In 1998, the album won the World of Christian Music’s Victory Award as Best Country Album, while its title song received a Victory nomination as Country Song of the Year. On the strength of This Gift, Chapman himself was nominated for a Victory Award as Best Country Artist. The album also received a Grammy nomination as Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. For his work on the Sam’s Place concert series, Nashville Scene readers voted Chapman Best Host of an Event in 1997 and 1998.
Chapman’s life changed dramatically in 1999. The year had barely begun when Chapman and Grant announced to the press that they were separating. By mid-year, their divorce was official. Making the breakup even more painful for Chapman was rampant press speculation that Grant had left Chapman for country singer Vince Gill. (Grant and Gill did, in fact, marry in March of 2000). But that was not the end of the bad news for Chapman. In August of 1999, the Nashville Network announced that it was canceling most of its programming in the talk-variety format, including Prime Time Country with Gary Chapman. TNN said the show would cease production in September of 1999.
As 1999 came to a close, Chapman was maintaining a positive attitude, telling USA Today. “I lost my job and my wife, and I’m happy. Go figure. As hokey as this may sound, I honestly feel so completely held in the center of God’s huge and tender hand.” Professionally, Chapman was keeping busy, releasing his latest album for Reunion in September of 1999. Entitled Outside, the album was “more personal than any I’ve ever done,” Chapman told the Tennessean. Listening to the lyrics of one song, “Learning to Love,” it is easy to see how the year’s events had influenced his writing: “My heart could not bend/So now it’s broken/For so long you told me/You’d never say good-bye.”
On a personal level, Chapman had a great deal to be happy about. Earlier in 1999, he had met Jennifer Pittman, an animal trainer at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando where Prime Time Country was broadcasting on location. Before long, the two were dating, and in June of 1999, Pittman moved to Nashville to be closer to Chapman. On July 1, 2000, with Chapman’s father officiating, the couple was married. Of his new bride, Chapman told K99FM’s CountryNotes newsletter: “She’s the kindest person I’ve ever met. And I am so looking forward to laughing for the rest of my years with her. She is a great, great soul.”
Chapman had several projects in the works as of 2001, and he was confident that whatever happened would be for the best. He told the Tennessean that he has turned down some offers that would have involved relocating to the West Coast because he is determined to stay close to his children, custody of which he shares with Grant. In a philosophical mood, Chapman told CountryNotes: “All I really want is to be able to look back at the end of life … and see a body of work that I am proud of.”
Sincerely Yours, Lion & Lamb, 1981.
Happenin’…Live, Lion & Lamb, 1983.
Everyday Man, RCA, 1987.
Light Inside, Reunion, 1994.
Shelter, Reunion, 1996.
This Gift, Reunion, 1997.
Outside, Reunion, 1999.
Associated Press, August 17, 1999.
CountryNotes, May-June 2000.
Tennessean (Nashville, TN), December 11, 1999; July 4, 2000.
USA Today, January 4, 1999, p. 2D; December 9, 1999, p. 8D.
“Gary Chapman,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (May 7, 2001).
“Gary Chapman,” Richard De La Font Agency Inc., http://www.delafont.com/music_arts/Gary-Chapman.htm (May 9, 2001).
“Gary Chapman: Profile,” Today’s Christian Music, http://www.todayschristianmusic.com/Profile-GaryChapman.htm (May 9, 2001).
Gary Chapman Official Website, http://www.ontariolive.com/garychapman/allaboutgary.html (May 9, 2001).