"And I've passed my graduation/ I hold my PHD in crash test blues/ I've paid those dues, I'm Free." - Free - Beth Nielsen Chapman-Annie Roboff.

When Beth Nielsen Chapman was asked to write a song for the Calendar Girls movie she reached even faster for Hollywood than the film heroines.

She wrote I Find Your Love within 12 hours of an email from music director Patrick Doyle.

And 48 hours later her home studio version was embellished with a 26-piece orchestra.

"Patrick was working on the movie and emailed me the melody at the 11th hour on a Friday," Chapman told Nu Country in a call from her home in Nashville.

"He said he wanted me to write the lyrics because there was a spot in the movie it would be perfect for.

I wrote it on Saturday, recorded my piano and vocal party on the Sunday, and emailed it to him on Sunday night. On Monday morning he put a 26-piece orchestra on it. It was the fastest record I ever made. Unfortunately it didn't end up in the movie. We thought it should have been but it's on the soundtrack. Now I get so many letters and emails about that song. I think it's touched a lot of people."

But the singer is realistic about peaks and troughs of her career.

"Don't plant your seeds too close to the asphalt of the music business," she says of her recording career dating back to her Muscle Shoals debut disc Hearing It First in 1979.

The singer, born in Harlington, Texas, was the middle child of five in an Air Force family that moved six times during her youth.


Chapman's songs appear in movies diverse as The Prince of Egypt, Message In A Bottle, The Rookie, Where The Heart Is and Practical Magic.

And her TV CV includes Say Goodnight - Dawson's Creek finale song - and others on ER, Providence, Felicity and other shows.

She has also penned a brace of hits for artists diverse as Waylon & Willie, Faith Hill, Emmylou Harris, Tanya Tucker, Lorrie Morgan and Trisha Yearwood.

Nielsen Chapman's seventh album Look (Sanctuary-BMG) entrees with Trying To Love You - a co-write with frequent collaborator Bill Lloyd who enjoyed mainstream success with Foster & Lloyd.

"Trisha Yearwood has since recorded it, she did an amazing job," Beth, now 47, says of a song she wrote while recovering from breast cancer.

"I'm really excited about that, she's an amazing artist. Everything she records becomes magic. I was really thrilled, we wrote it in one day but didn't have lines between trying to love you. Once it was restructured at the suggestion of my co-producer Peter Collins it fell into place."


Another new song Free has been recorded by Faith Hill who had a huge hit with This Kiss that broke the radio moat with the lyric "centrifugal motion."

This Kiss was penned with long time co-writer Annie Roboff who was the collaborator on Free and Right Back Into The Feeling.

And although Beth credits Roboff with the "centrifugal motion" line she accepts credit for "I hold my PHD in crash test blues."

Chapman nursed her husband Ernest during a painful and protracted two-year battle with cancer that ended his life in 1994.

The recovery period produced her fifth album title track Sand And Water, adopted by Sir Elton John, as his tribute to Princess Diana when Candle In The Wind became too hard to sing on his 1997 tour.

Chapman admits her breast cancer battle and recovery produced many songs on Look - especially Free.

She produced Look with Collins who also helmed albums by the Indigo Girls and Nanci Griffith.

Annie Roboff >

Guests include Indigo Girl Amelia Saliers and Michael McDonald harmony and Bekka Bramlett on tambourine.

"It was a page out of my life but the lives of Annie and myself are so entwined it could have come out of either one," Chapman says, "Annie & I got together, not to write, but if we say we're not going to write we do write. In that song we got the melody and the vibe and the feel and couple of months later we got back together. The song reaches back to our childhood. But it's about my own battle with breast cancer. It was one of the first songs I wrote after getting my energy back."

So was Right Back Into The Feeling.

"I think it related to both of our lives," says Chapman, "we're talking about two different relationships. It's the same basic bottom line. Love lost does come at a higher cost. I lost my husband and in her case it was a relationship she had for many years and a choice she made. I think everybody feels that way."


Chapman also included Time Won't Tell - one of many songs she penned with late five times wed legend Harlan Howard who died at 74 on March, 3, 2002.

"Harlan and I used to write together once a month," Chapman revealed, "he would call me and rattle my cage. We wrote that in 1997. I was waiting for the right record to put it on. I loved it so much that I got it on this record."

Beth broke the love song mould with the narrative Will & Liz - penned with Al Anderson and David Baerwald.

"There was someone that one of the writers knew," says Chapman. "I'm not going to say who. This relationship was very destructive. I thought about some other people that I knew, where that fit. It became a story song about two people who descend into darkness together, a destructive kind of love. We set up that the tragedy, they're into drugs and living on the edge of sanity. It was a fairly unusual song for me to write."


Chapman wrote Touch My Heart with fellow keyboard player Matt Rollings for Heather Greer Sells.

"She was the daughter of one of my dear friends and she passed away," says Chapman, "when I was writing that lyric I was tapping into someone else's grief. It was the same place I came from when I wrote Sand And Water about my husband. But that was a very different place there, 10 years ago. I still love my husband and will always have a special place in my heart for him. The emotions that came through when I was writing it were so fresh. At the end of writing it I was in a period of recovery. I'm in a great place. I feel very energetic. I have a very good prognosis. I'm feeling better than ever, that's reflected in the songs."

And on one of those songs Your Love Stays she duets with their son Ernest Chapman 111 with Dan Dugmore on dobro and Viktor Krauss on bass.

Ernest also arranged the strings on The Reason, written with David Wilcox who recently toured Australia.

"Not only did he sing a duet with me he arranged the strings on The Reason," says the singer who took a two year hiatus when Ernest was born 23 years ago.

"He's become quite a fine musician. It's a delight to have him on this album. He's pretty much a songwriter. When he was born that was the longest I went without writing a song was when he was born, I didn't write for two years but I did learn to bake bread."

Chapman has been planning an Australian tour since she had a radio hit here with All I Have in 1990.


The tempo increased after catching up with Andrea Zonn who performed her song Heads Up For The Wrecking Ball at the recent Port Fairy folk festival.

"I just saw Andrea a couple of weeks ago," says Chapman, "she was performing with James Taylor in Ireland. I opened for James at a festival in Kilkenny. Andrea was backing him up and singing, playing beautifully. I thanked her for cutting that song. I was so excited she did that."

And Chapman plans to bring her new partner on that tour.

"He's a very talented photographer and psychologist and will take photos on the tour,' she says, "he has put in his reservation."

Chapman was diagnosed with stage two-breast cancer when she was finishing her sixth album Deeper Still - her Sanctuary Records debut featuring John Prine, Emmylou, John Hiatt, Kimmie Rhodes and Andy Bey.

She used the disc's promotion to speak about her 12-month battle and encourage women to be vigilant in caring for their health.

Chapman used a log on her website to demystify the process of chemotherapy and taught in workshops about dealing with grief.

Her songwriting is an even more cathartic experience - especially when she tours.


And one person likely to be instrumental in her tour is singing actress Olivia Newton-John - one of the reasons Chapman had the strength to conquer cancer.

"I was going to come there and perform with her before I was diagnosed with cancer," Chapman revealed.

"We've become very good friends and we both work together on this organisation called CHECK which helps educate people about toxins for children. We stayed good friends but we haven't toured together but I'm hoping to do that. The day I was diagnosed I made a phone call to Olivia I was completely coming out of my head. I was very shocked and very worried and concerned. I didn't know where to start. She helped me directly, put me in touch with her oncologist. She gave me her doctor's home number. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was just a disaster. He gave me really great advice. I was thinking of flying to New York and California and interviewing all these doctors and getting the best doctor in the world. He said 'you're living in Nashville, there's fantastic doctors in Nashville at Vanderbilt University, you need to conserve your energy.' He gave me a doctor's name and really set me on my path. Olivia was a very good friend to me. She gave me all her phone numbers so I could call her day or night - and I did - she was a great friend during that time. The good part about going through that is finding out how wonderful people can be. You really get to feel their love and support, that was a great thing, I'll never forget that."

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