Keith Chapman (organist)

Keith Chapman

Dr. Chapman at the 6 manual Wanamaker Organ console
Born 1945[1]
San Mateo, California
Died June 29, 1989[2]
The Colorado Rockies
Nationality USA
Known for Wanamaker Organist, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Keith Chapman (1945-1989) was an American concert organist known best for his flair at playing in the symphonic style of organ performance, and particularly for his long and distinguished association (1966-1989) with the Wanamaker's Department Stores of Philadelphia as their principal organist of the Wanamaker Organ.

Early history

Dr. Chapman was born in San Mateo, California and grew up in San Francisco, California. An organ prodigy, he began formal study at age 5 with S. Leslie Grow, a student of Marcel Dupre. Chapman was the accompanist to the Capuchino High School Concert Choir while it was directed by Otto Mielenz. Then he studied with Richard Purvis organist at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, and eventually worked as an assistant there.

Dr. Chapman came to Philadelphia where he attended the Curtis Institute of Music, from 1964 to 1968 studying organ under Alexander McCurdy who was also Purvis's teacher. He received a master's degree from Temple University in 1971 and an honorary doctor of musical arts degree from Combs College of Music in Philadelphia in 1978. He also had several original compositions published for organ solo.

In addition to his appointment at Wanamaker's, Dr. Chapman performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and served as organist and choirmaster at Philadelphia's First Presbyterian Church and Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel.[3]

Association with Wanamaker

Dr. Chapman was appointed principal organist at Wanamaker's in 1966 at age 20 while he was still a student at Curtis. He would preside over the largest fully playable organ in the World and would remain at that position for the next 23 years until his untimely death in 1989.

At the time of Dr. Chapman's appointment, the Wanamaker Organ had been underused. As one of his first projects Dr. Chapman arranged for the broadcast of Wanamaker radio concerts which were heard over Philadelphia radio station WHYY-FM and included his own commentaries about the performances and the organ.

Chapman regularly welcomed visitors into the loft containing the organ console and permitted them to sit during performances. He also allowed visitors to be photographed with him on the organ bench.[4] In addition to several known instances of Chapman playing practical jokes on customers at the store, he was also known for multitasking while performing by playing chess or having a conversation.[1]


At the time of Dr. Chapman's death it was thought that all copies of his historic broadcasts had been destroyed. Eventually it was discovered that two enthusiasts of the Wanamaker Organ had reproduced digitally remastered recordings of these radio broadcasts of very high quality. The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ organization was able to reissue on compact disk three of the half-hour performances. These recordings are of special significance because shortly after Dr. Chapman's death both the Echo and Ethereal divisions were damaged in separate accidents and not available for many years.[5][6] Other recordings include:

After his death, many of Chapman's arrangements were published in At the Organ With Keith Chapman. Warner Brothers Publications. March 2000. ISBN 9780769250878. 

Diamond Anniversary Concert

In 1986 Dr. Chapman was featured artist the landmark concert at the Wanamaker Grand Court which celebrated Dr. Chapman's 20th anniversary as Wanamaker Organist and the Organ's 75th anniversary. This was the first after-hours concert at Wanamaker's in some 50 years. The tradition has been continued into the present day largely under the auspices of the non-profit organization, Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.

The concert was recorded at the time and has been released on DVD by the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ. Also included is a 2009 update on the restoration of the instrument.[10]


Chapman and his wife, Sally, were killed when their twin-engine Cessna 310 crashed into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the Colorado Rockies while returning from a performance in California.[3][11] The Chapmans were reportedly en route to visit Sally's daughter (from a previous marriage) and new grandchild in Omaha, Nebraska at the time of the crash.[2] Chapman was succeeded at Wanamaker's later that year by Peter Richard Conte.[12]


  1. 1 2 Biswanger, Ray (1999). Music in the Marketplace the story of Philadelphia's historic Wanamaker Organ (First ed.). Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ. pp. 78–80. ISBN 0-9665552-0-1.
  2. 1 2 Collins, Huntly (July 5, 1989). "Keith Chapman, 44, Organist At Wanamakers". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  3. 1 2 Costantinou, Marianne (July 5, 1989). "Organist Dies In Crash Wanamaker's Musician, Wife Killed On Plane". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  4. "Experience the Wanamaker Organ". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  5. Keith Chapman, the Lost Radio Broadcasts Volume 1
  6. Keith Chapman, the Lost Radio Broadcasts Volume 2
  7. Keith Chapman, Organ Live
  10. "Wanamaker Organ Diamond Anniversary Concert DVD". Friends of the Wanamaker Organ. Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, Inc. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  11. "NTSB Report No. DEN89FA154". Aviation Accident Database. National Transportaion Safety Board. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  12. "Facts and Figures About the Wanamaker Organ". Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, Inc. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
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