For music aficionados, when thinking about a connection between New England and popular music it is difficult for the folk legends The Shaw Brothers not to come to mind. When considering twins Ron and Rick Shaw’s birthplace in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and their musical journey via the University of New Hampshire, to the wider appreciating world it is hard to find a musical example that does not personify artists that performed at the top of their chosen genre all the while having their beloved New Hampshire and New England in their hearts.
It was on the campus of UNH where it all began back in the early sixties performing at fraternity parties and off campus clubs. Known in those early days as the Windjammers, and the Tradewinds, it was actually under the name The Brandywine Singers that they brought top honors back to New England in the 1962 National Inter-Collegiate Music Competition. For the first time the wider world got to hear the musical magic that they created, and it loved what it heard.
Ron and Rick played a major role in the growth and popularity of folk music in New England which, at the time, was also seen across the United States. Their rising reputation led to the offer of their first record deal with an album being recorded in Boston MA under the Brandywine Singers name, which was widely played across the network of New England radio stations. This promotion of their talents had the William Morris Agency knocking on their door and with this new representation they found themselves working alongside some of the great names of the time, including touring with Johnny Mathis.
The late sixties saw the Vietnam War and active service for Rick which, for a time, brought an end to the brothers’ musical exploits together. Ron continued in the business and became part of the Pozo Seco singers alongside the late great Don Williams, and Susan “Pie” Taylor. However, upon Rick’s return from active service, it was not long before the twins once more became musical partners and created the name that the folk music world, and New England in particular, knows best, The Shaw Brothers.
As the Shaw Brothers, RCA offered them a record deal, but not quite before they had a brief spell recording and performing what was to become one of the most well-known songs of all time and biggest international hits of the period, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” which became the theme song for Coca Cola. The commercial success of the hit was confirmed by a spell of 10 straight weeks on the Billboard top 40, peaking at #13. Ron and Rick’s time with The Hillside Singers will forever be remembered for their contribution to seventies musical legend.
Under the RCA banner, the boy’s career went from strength to strength. In 1974 they traveled to London to record the seminal album Follow Me. This was followed by many albums that combined their take on established songs alongside their own titles. Ron and Rick’s musical talents had few boundaries; they played, they sang, they wrote, and they performed.
When it came to performing, their relaxed style of music, wit, and repartee had audiences all over the world loving a Shaw Brothers live concert experience and provided the opportunity to work with some of the great names of the day, including Bob Hope and Jay Leno. Musically their collaborations with John Denver, Johnny Cash, Tom Paxton, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy underlined their reputation with their musical genre. In the world of show business and television, over the years they performed on American Bandstand, Ed Sullivan Show, The Johnny Carson Show, and a Bob Hope special.
But it was New England and New Hampshire that provided them with their greatest rewards and musical creations. In Boston, The Shaw Brothers song “The Day The Tall Ships Came” was the theme song for Operation Sail and the song “New Hampshire Naturally” was selected as a New Hampshire state song. In fact, then New Hampshire Governor, the late Hugh Gallen, described them as “New Hampshire’s musical ambassadors to the world.” How right he was, and they were first choice to perform at New Hampshire events in the presence of Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama.
Back at home in New Hampshire there was a certain venue that stood head and shoulders above any of the global venues the boys played. Prescott Park in Portsmouth NH, was the scene of what was to become a summer tradition for 25 years, the annual summer concert series. From all over New England the audiences came in droves to see the Shaw Brothers play. In fact, the venue was the site of the live recording of one of their most famous albums, “Concert in the Park” and the Shaw Brothers annual summer concert became a legendary part of the New England musical calendar.
From learning how to sing and play ukulele with their father at the age of 3 back in the White Mountains to gracing stages all over the world is a story in itself. But the story of real value is that Ron and Rick always stayed true to their geographical origins. New England and the north east coast helped build their character and values. Perhaps their greatest childhood memories came from the summers they spent at Camp Huckins in Freedom, New Hampshire, as both campers and counselors . This was the place where they spent evenings with their fellow campers sitting around the campfire singing and playing music. The bond created amongst the group was to last a lifetime as was their bond to Camp Huckins itself.
Few, if any, have had such a musical influence on this area. Both passed in the city they loved (Ron in 2018, Rick in 2021) and the city, and its people that loved them, Portsmouth NH. New Hampshire was where their heart was and fittingly, it is the state that became their final resting place, Naturally.
(by Jessica Shaw)
Published on April 26, 2022