Keith Chapman (organist)

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Keith Chapman
Keith Chapman at Wanamaker Console.jpg
Dr. Chapman at the 6 manual Wanamaker console


San Mateo, California

June 29, 1989

The Colorado Rockies
Nationality USA
Known for Wanamaker Organist, Philadelphia Pennsylvania[3]

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 Department Stores of Philadelphia as their principal organist.

Early history[edit]

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. Then he studied with Richard Purvis organist at Grace Cathedral, 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 a 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.[4]

Association with Wanamaker[edit]

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. Mary Vogt, who had been organist for many years, was not really capable of showcasing the magnificent instrument over which she presided for 50 years. As one of his first projects Dr. Chapman arranged for the broadcast of Wanamaker radio concerts which were heard over Philadelphia radio station WHYY.

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 2 enthusiasts of the Wanamaker Organ had reproduced digitally remastered recordings of these radio broadcasts of very high quality. The Friends of Wanamaker organization was able to reissue on compact disk 3 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]

Diamond Anniversary Concert[edit]

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 Wanamakers in some 50 years. The tradition has been continued into the present day largely under the auspices of the non profit organization Friends of Wanamaker.

The concert was recorded at the time and has been released on DVD by the Friends of Wanamaker. Also included is a 2009 update on the restoration of the instrument.[7]


Chapman and his wife, Sally were killed when their twin-engine plane crashed in the Colorado Rockies[8]


  1. ^ 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. ^
  3. ^ The Friends of Wanamaker website, a group dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Wanamaker organ where Dr. Chapman did some of his greatest work
  4. ^
  5. ^ Keith Chapman, the Lost Radio Broadcasts Volume 1
  6. ^ Keith Chapman, the Lost Radio Broadcasts Volume 2
  7. ^ The Wanamaker Organ Diamond Anniversary Concert DVD
  8. ^ Death Notice for Keith Chapman