Martin Swinger (1955-2021)

Listen to Martin Swinger's Memorial Show


Martin Swinger

ASBURY PARK, N.J. – Martin Swinger, a loving, generous, and highly esteemed singer-songwriter of Asbury Park, N.J., passed away unexpectedly at the age of 66 in Augusta, Georgia.

Martin was a renowned composer, writer, and community activist, who will forever be remembered for his soulful and heartfelt masterpieces, most definitely “songs worth listening to.”

Martin’s lifelong commitment to making the world a better place through music, theatre, and art education, created community and inspiration wherever he went. Performing more than 80 gigs a year, Martin’s concerts offered a surprisingly eclectic mix of songs. In addition to his panorama of award-winning original songs, he also sang swing and jazz, folk and traditional, as well as klezmer and show tunes. His concerts often included improvised music created on the spot, perfect for the occasion. Perhaps most memorable, Martin was known for his fluid voice, astonishing vocal range, and engaging stage presence for both adult and family audiences.

With music being an honored Swinger family tradition, Martin began singing solos in public by the first grade and writing songs by his teens. Early years in Georgia were spent playing piano, ukulele, and guitar, making music with friends and family, and singing in school and church choirs.

Martin formed his first band while in Junior High School, and in High School, discovered poetry, Paul Simon, and Harry Nilsson, all of which would influence his lifelong work as a songwriter. He attended Valdosta State College in Georgia where he majored in theater and starred in and wrote music for many theatrical productions. In 1977, Martin joined a group of actors, musicians, dancers, and theater artists as a founding member of the iconic Theatrical Outfit. Creating original plays for adult and family audiences, Theatrical Outfit often featured Martin’s original songs, and in addition to performances in its Atlanta home, the company took its original productions to New York, North Carolina, Vermont, and the New World Theater Festival in Baltimore. After the Theatrical Outfit, Martin met Mitch Barrett, a singer/songwriter from Kentucky, with whom he formed the band Mandala. At this point, Martin began to take his personal songwriting more seriously, and his first adult song, “Look Who’s Cryin’ Now” earned a Certificate of Merit from The American Song Festival.

From Kentucky, Martin’s journey took him to Virginia, where he formed the band Just Plain Folk. The next move was to Maine, and Martin’s marriage to Brian Kaufman in 2012 was among the more colorful in Maine, with color photos of the occasion occupying the front page of the central Maine papers for several days running.

In Maine, Martin celebrated nine years as the host and producer of an original cable television show, “ALIVE! From Johnson Hall,” a popular concert series featuring Maine musicians, which continues to broadcast to over 120,000 homes across Maine. His broadcasts also include “At Home With The Singing Chef,” and “Live from the Rainbow Room.”

Touring around the country, Martin was a regular at Texas’ beloved Kerrville Folk Festival, where he won songwriting awards and taught songwriting at the Threadgill Theater. He was also honored with songwriting awards at the South Florida Folk Festival, Ben and Jerry’s Solarfest, and Bar Le Drague in Quebec City, Canada. Martin’s improvisational music was inspired and nurtured by world class teachers like Rhiannon (founding member of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra) and Dr. Ysaye Maria Barnwell (Sweet Honey in the Rock). His numerous bands and collaborations in Maine included Zingo Zango Generic Jug Band, Improvox, Brio, and Wilderness Road.

Martin was among the founding faculty at the Foothills Arts Camp in Farmington, Maine, and was a member of the Sandy River Players. And in the tradition of community theater, he helped to create a musical history of the town of Livermore Falls, Maine.

Martin spent many years working in communities as an Artist-in-Residence, ranging from six weeks of Songwriting for the Asbury Park, New Jersey school district, to spending time on Monhegan Island 30 miles off the Maine coast. He often spoke about how the ferry to the island was so rough that suitcases were floating around on the deck due to the rough seas.

In addition to his biological family, Martin was considered family by all who met him, many of whom were blessed to have him write original songs for special occasions like wedding and birthdays.

His music was spread far and wide through his membership in national organizations like the Children’s Music Network and the People’s Music Network, his stewardship of the historic Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, his many appearances singing the national anthem for the Maine legislature, and his most recent work as the vice president of Rainbow Quest! a nonprofit for diversity education.

Resource: Martin Swinger (1955-2021) – Daily Bulldog 







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