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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

GRAMMY WINNER CHARLES “Chip” Atkins, left, came home to see his family in Liberty, and he dropped by the Daniel Pierce Library in Grahamsville to drop off a copy of his Grammy-winning project. Library Director Joann Gallagher (who taught Atkins as a substitute teacher at Tri-Valley Central School) and Atkins’ mother, Mary Ann, far right, chatted about filming the documentary that accompanied “Songs From the Neighborhood: The Music of Mister Rogers.”

Grammy, Stars Find
Their Way to Atkins

By Jeanne Sager
YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — March 28, 2006 – At the very least, Chip Atkins can say Vince Gill bought him dinner and Ricky Skaggs made him coffee.
Oh yeah, and the project that brought him face to face with some of the music industry’s biggest stars also earned the Tri-Valley grad a Grammy.
Atkins was the man behind the camera taping the bonus DVD that comes in the box with this year’s Best Musical Album for Children, “Songs From the Neighborhood: The Music of Mister Rogers.”
The project brought together musical legends like Skaggs, Gill’s wife Amy Grant, Roberta Flack, Jon Secada, CeCe Winans and Crystal Gayle to perform the songs of Fred Rogers’ popular children’s television show.
A 1996 graduate of Tri-Valley, Atkins is now a Youngstown, Ohio businessman.
After spending a year at Sullivan County Community College and a few years at Five Towns College in Dix Hills, Atkins returned to the county and worked for the Fallsburg school district helping with the production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
He found a job in Ohio on the Internet and moved out there in 2002.
Within a year, Atkins struck out on his own, opening Accent Media, a production company that specializes in producing commercial video.
His time at Five Towns was spent jumping from major to major – every time he got deep into the study of a certain subject, it seemed the college dropped that particular major.
But it gave Atkins experience in everything from sound editing to lighting, skills he uses on the job every day and skills that came in handy in the shooting of “Songs From the Neighborhood.”
For a small company, this was big business.
“Not necessarily financially,” Atkins explained, “but I’d say recognition-wise.”
A project development coordinator Atkins had hired to make connections for Accent Media turned him on to the Fred Rogers project, and Atkins pitched the idea of a “making-of” documentary.
The budget was small – the producers are now “kicking themselves” for not making a high definition DVD.
But while his company continued to work on commercial video for Youngstown State University, furniture stores and ad agencies, Atkins spent nine months capturing the story of Mister Rogers and his influence on American music.
The songs were all written by Rogers, with the exception of a tribute song penned by producer Dennis Scott.
Scott, a Grammy and Emmy award-winning songwriter whose work appeared on “Elmopalooza,” was the man who pulled the entire “Songs from the Neighborhood” project together.
It was his idea to take Rogers’ songs and re-record them.
“He’s just got this knack for being very forward-thinking,” Atkins explained.
“When he calls, you will do it because either it’s a good idea or you want him to stop calling!” he added with a laugh. “Which it usually is a good idea.”
This idea was so good that most of the world-class performers agreed to work for union scale, a price most of these folks haven’t seen in years.
“Everyone involved in it was involved because of the project,” Atkins explained.
They did it because Fred Rogers made a difference in children’s lives.
Roberta Flack even took a loss on the project – she hired her own arranger, and she’s been doing promos on national television to get the project some more recognition.
Of course Atkins knew who Mister Rogers was – he watched the show as a youngster.
“It wasn’t for the music,” he confessed. “I actually watched it more for the screen, that wall of TVs and the train going through to the Land of Make Believe.”
But as a bass guitar player, the real thrill was in encountering the many artists who signed on to the project.
Country singer Amy Grant, in particular, made an impact for just being a real person.
When Atkins was hovering around with his camera, he apologized for being annoying, and she responded with a laugh.
“She said, ‘I have four children, nothing you can do will bother me,’” he revealed with a laugh.
On one of his return trips to Nashville for a taping, Atkins went out to a hole-in-the-wall for burgers with Scott only to be greeted by Grant at the door.
“She said, ‘Hey Dennis, Chip, come over and have dinner with us,’” Atkins recalled. “And ‘us’ was her and her husband, Vince Gill.”
The country superstar said very little throughout the meal, but when the check came he refused to let Atkins chip in.
“I can say Vince Gill bought me dinner, and Ricky Skaggs made me coffee!” Atkins said with a laugh.
Skaggs’ personal studio, formerly owned by the Oakridge Boys, was one of the most amazing spots Atkins had been.
Everything was top of the line, and the studio was filled with Skaggs’ personal collection of antique microphones.
“You’ll see things lying around that look like car parts, and someone comes out and hotwires it and hooks it up with an alligator clamp and it sounds like gold,” Atkins said, shaking his head.
He’s proud to say he caught a mistake at the Skaggs studio – a note that was incorrect.
Atkins has been musical since the fourth grade at Tri-Valley when he started playing the baritone horn.
He moved on to the tuba, which mom Mary Ann joked was bigger than him.
“I sat on a book for awhile,” he said with a laugh. “It was like a 4-inch music book I climbed up on to reach the thing.”
With that kind of background, Atkins was in his element on the “set” of his documentary.
“They’d be a minute and a half into recording, and I still wasn’t done getting goosebumps!” he revealed.
After recording, Atkins got to sit down with the artists for personal interviews about their love of Mister Rogers and his music.
By the end of the process, he had about 60 hours of raw footage that was edited down into a 50-minute DVD.
On the bonus booklet that accompanies the project, Atkins is credited as chief editor, lead camera and field director.
There are plans to revisit the DVD and make a lot of improvements now that money is starting to flow in from sales of the CD.
The Grammy Award has helped get the project a lot of attention.
For Atkins it was nice to hear, but it really hasn’t changed his life.
“I’ve got people sending me songs, hoping I can get them a recording contract,” he said. “I got mobbed at the bank one day – that was interesting.
“But even when I got the call, when they said, ‘Hey, guess what, we just won a Grammy,’ I continued working late into the night.”
Scott called from Hollywood – he got the Grammy statuette.
Atkins got a certificate to hang on his wall.
He clicked over from the call from Scott and told his mom he’d won.
She watched from her Liberty home while her son got back to work in Ohio.
Mary Ann and Craig Atkins are proud of their son’s accomplishments.
“I sent out my own list of e-mails,” Mary Ann said with a grin.
As for Atkins, he’s hoping the CD and the accompanying DVD will end up in children’s media libraries across the country.
Home on a visit last week, he donated a copy to the Daniel Pierce Library in Grahamsville.
And Monday, he was back at work, his Grammy on his wall, his mind back on business.

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