He helped teach the world to sing

Monday, October 1, 2018

Ron Shaw '63

To a generation of Wildcats, Ron Shaw ’63 was a famous folk singer, one half of a duo of handsome brothers who sang at UNH fraternity parties and later went on to perform on the national stage. But to his daughter Jessica ’93, Ron was simply Pa. “I knew from a young age that he was well-known, and that what he did for a living was different from my other friends’ fathers, but I didn’t understand the vast history or the impact he and his music had on people until many years later," she says.

Growing up with identical twin Rick ’63 in North Conway, New Hampshire, music was part of Ron’s life from early childhood. As young boys, the pair learned from their father how to play the ukulele and harmonize cowboy songs. At UNH, Ron and Rick teamed up with some classmates and performed first as The Windjammers and later The Tradewinds — a quintet with which they won the first National Inter-Collegiate Music Competition, in 1962. Spurred by that success, they released an album, and put their studies on hold to take their act on the road as The Brandywine Singers, performing at some 350 colleges, state fairs and nightclubs throughout the United States and Canada.

After earning their degrees, Ron and his brother followed separate paths for a time. While Rick served in Vietnam, Ron spent two years with the Pozo-Seco Singers, taught music in the Oyster River School District, toured as a solo act and opened for Janis Joplin at UNH. With Rick’s return in 1968, the duo became The Shaw Brothers, the name under which they would go on to record multiple albums; perform on American Bandstand, The Tonight Show, ABC Wide World of Entertainment and more; and collaborate with artists and entertainers including Don McLean, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Dionne Warwick and Johnny Mathis.

In 1971, The Shaw Brothers were invited to join The Hillside Singers, a group assembled to turn the Coca-Cola jingle “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” into a mainstream hit. The song reached number 13 on the Billboard chart that year and remains the duo’s best-known collaboration, but it was their love of New Hampshire and particularly the White Mountains in which they were raised that left the most enduring mark on their music.

“He was very proud of growing up in the White Mountains, and he enjoyed showing me all the places he frequented when he was young,” says Jessica, Ron’s only child with former wife Pamela Holmes Shaw ’64. Having learned to ski with the famous Austrian instructor Hannes Schneider at North Conway’s Mt. Cranmore, Ron introduced his daughter to the sport at the same mountain at age 11. He also took her canoeing on the Saco River and showed her his beloved Camp Huckins in West Ossipee, where he spent many happy summers as a camper and counselor with Rick.

Their musical career may have taken The Shaw Brothers around the world, but one of the duo’s favorite venues was Portsmouth’s Prescott Park, where they performed for 22 straight summers in front of enormous crowds. In the early 1980s, Gov. Hugh Gallen named The Shaw Brothers “New Hampshire’s Musical Ambassadors to the World,” and in 1983 their song “New Hampshire Naturally” was named an official state song.

“My father was fortunate to have been able to travel quite extensively in his life, and he always encouraged me to do the same,” Jessica says. “My curiosity for the world and my deep love for music are definitely to his credit.” Jessica recalls that when she first went to Europe after college, her father helped design an itinerary of places to see while also surprising her with a ticket to see “The Mousetrap” in England — and a reminder to get one of the theatre’s “special ice cream sandwiches.”

Despite living most of his life on stage, Jessica recalls her father, who passed away on April 1 at the age of 77, as a soft-spoken and private man. He enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren, Keegan Landry ’18 and Emma Landry ’20, as well as with his longtime companion Sallie Macintosh. Grandson Keegan was the third generation of his family to join Sigma Beta fraternity, following in the footsteps of his father Matthew Landry ’93, his grandfather Ron and great-uncle Rick. Keegan fondly remembers when the trio surprised him by attending his Sigma Beta induction ceremony several years ago, saying, “It was a special moment for all of us”— and a sweet encore to the many memories Ron and Rick forged, launching their remarkable career in the same space more than five decades earlier.