'Dances' crosses many lines

Beth Nielsen Chapman shares stage with Ala. troupe

By LaReeca Rucker

She co-wrote the 1998 hit This Kiss, a song made popular by Mississippi native Faith Hill that became the soundtrack for the movie Practical Magic.

It was nominated for a Grammy and was the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' 1999 Song Of The Year.

Beth Nielsen Chapman has also written songs for Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Neil Diamond, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris while producing numerous albums of her own.

The singer/songwriter whose new album Back to Love debuted on three Billboard album charts this week will perform Thursday in Jackson during an International Ballet Competition Regional Dance America performance. The Alabama Dance Theater will present Dances of Faith at 2 p.m. at Thalia Mara Hall.

Chapman will sing music from two previous albums, Hymns and Prism, while the ADT performs.

Prism: The Human Family Songbook is a 2007 album sung in nine languages that features a mix of spiritual songs from various traditions, from Buddhism and Judaism to Catholicism.

Hymns is a 2004 collection of centuries-old Latin liturgical pieces.

Janie Alford, a faculty member of Montgomery's ADT, choreographed Dances of Faith.

Chapman grew up in Montgomery, and her mother took ballet from the ADT as an adult.

"Her mom would bring Beth's CDs," Alford said. "She brought one several years ago when I started choreographing the piece.

"The element of live music creates a magical energy," Alford added. "There's definitely something for everyone that you can take out of her music, no matter what religion you are, even if you don't have a religion."

Chapman, who spoke by phone from New York Monday, said she will perform That Mystery from Prism.

"It talks about the different cultures and ways people sing in devotion," she said.

She also plans to sing the traditional Hebrew song Shalom Alecheim (Peace be upon you).

The Nashville-based singer/songwriter was born in Harlingen, Texas, as the middle child of five raised by an Air Force major and nurse.

When the family moved from Germany to Alabama in 1969, Chapman brought her guitar to the U.S.

Influenced by the Vietnam War, the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and a trip to a Munich concentration camp, Chapman said she began to sense the "existential depth of human suffering for the first time."

"Then my dad came home with the orders that we were moving to Montgomery, Ala., the hotbed of the civil rights movement," she said on her website. "I held onto that guitar for dear life."

Alabama became her home.

She married Ernest Chapman Jr. in 1979, a year before her first album, Hearing It, was released by Capitol Records.

A year later, she gave birth to son Ernest Chapman III, and by 1985, the young family lived in Nashville.

Five years later, she was writing hits for Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson, and was signed as a pop artist to Warner/Reprise.

Chapman's life has not been absent trials and tragedy. In 1993, her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Three years after his death, she released 1997's Sand And Water, which was performed by Elton John on his 1997 U.S. tour to honor the memory of Princess Diana.

And in 2000, while finishing a record called Deeper Still, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She recently faced another health scare when doctors discovered a fast-growing, but benign brain tumor that affected the language center of her brain.

She underwent a successful surgery last year. "This year, I'm going to be kicking my heels up."

Chapman recently released a new album called Back to Love.

"It's all love songs about life," she said. "How We Love (song) is really all about what we have on earth to leave behind," she said. "It's what you do while you're here, and how you conduct yourself.

"I think it's probably my favorite song. I have been dedicating it to the beautiful creatures that seem to be struggling in the Gulf of Mexico. I would love one day for it to be choreographed."