Our Far-Flung Alumni: Todd Cerney ’76

March 15, 2011

We learned today the sad news that Todd Cerney, a 1976 alumnus of Earlham, and a gifted songwriter and musician, had passed away.

Here’s a recent e-mail about Todd, just before he passed, from Earlham Biologist extraordinaire, Bill Buskirk (’66):

“What connection do the following recording artists and the song they recorded have in common, and what’s the Earlham connection?

Aretha Franklin and the Four Tops — If Ever A Love There Was
Etta James — Blues Is My Business — Etta James
Restless Heart — I’ll Still Be Loving You (country #1 hit)
Reba McEntire — I’ll Still Be Loving You
Steve Holy — Good Morning Beautiful (country #1 hit)
Ty Herndon — No Mercy
John Anderson — Till I Get Used To The Pain
Cheap Trick — Didn’t Know I Had It

“The answer is their songwriter, Todd Cerney, who graduated from Earlham in 1976.

“Monday night Marie Cope Nicholson (EC ‘76) and I attended a benefit concert in Nashville TN for Todd who is far along with Stage 4 melanoma.

“Unfortunately Todd’s health was so bad that he couldn’t attend – but Skype was set up so he could watch the performances on the program.

“I knew he had written some great music and was a good person, but was a bit over-whelmed to see over 500 (I’d estimate) show up — and to witness the manifest respect and love for him.

“We got there when the doors opened, but already the line was curved down block.  As we got into the Red Rooster Bar and Music Hall, no seating was left but we found a small area where we could stand right next to the stage and its steps (and there we stood for nearly 6 hours – vibrating to the sound)!  Ned Ramage (EC ‘76) joined us.

“I have to say it was exhilarating – watching the show and listening to the comments (open and eavesdropped) about Todd.  Getting an idea of how he fits into the music industry was heart warming. I also felt I learned a lot about how the industry works.  I felt as though I were on a steep learning curve — I loved it.  This was not a cultural place I’d been before.

“A lot of the performers were local songwriter/singers who have worked and collaborated with Todd for years, but several top singers came.  Most volunteered to come once they heard the benefit was being planned; a few had never met Todd, but knew him by reputation and the respect people in  the industry hold for him.

“Steve Holy sang “Good Morning Beautiful”, his and Todd’s #1 hit. Between songs  Steve looked at the Skype camera and with breaking voice, in effect said, “Todd without you and your music I would be nowhere in my career, I wouldn’t even have a career in music.”  Many of the younger artist spoke to how warm, supportive and caring Todd and his wife, Kip Kirby a former writer for “Billboard”, have been in helping them start and grow in Nashville.

“Several performers played their own music, much of it celebrated aspects or themes in Todd’s life and interests.  Not all though, some added an eclectic flair.  Among the other top performers were: Ty Herndon, Bo Bice, and Restless Heart (singing “I’ll Be Loving You”, their and Todd’s #1 hit).  Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits sang “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” and “All Over The World”!

“I came away feeling enlivened, newly aware of a cultural community I’d not had contact with before. I was proud to see how highly Todd is respected and how important he has been as a catalyst and artist in that community of creative people.”

Bill Buskirk
Professor of Biology, emeritus

Here’s the obituary from The Tennessean:

Nashville songwriter and musician Todd Cerney dies at 57

Nashville songwriter and musician Todd Cerney, whose compositions have been recorded by Aretha Franklin, Cheap Trick, Etta James, Levon Helm, Restless Heart and others, died of cancer Monday at age 57. He was diagnosed after a brain seizure in November and had been in hospice care.

“He was so well-rounded, and such a consummate musician,” said Pam Rose, who with Mr. Cerney, Mary Ann Kennedy and Pat Bunch wrote the Restless Heart ballad “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” which was nominated for a Grammy in 1987 for best country song and which won the 1988 ASCAP country song of the year award. “Todd was gracious and talented and so musical.”

Mr. Cerney was born in Detroit and raised in Zanesville, Ohio. He moved to Nashville in 1974, finding work as a singer, songwriter and audio engineer. He sang harmony vocals on recordings by Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and many others, and he played with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, but Mr. Cerney built a career on his ability to craft words and melodies into emotional songs.

One of those was 2001’s “Good Morning, Beautiful,” a five-week Billboard No. 1 country single for Steve Holy that was performed on the Feb. 24, 2011 edition of American Idol. The show aired a week before Mr. Cerney’s health necessitated a move from his Middle Tennessee home to Alive Hospice.

A multi-instrumentalist, Mr. Cerney performed often on Nashville stages and co-wrote with notables including Jon Bon Jovi, Brian May of Queen and Nashville songwriters Rivers Rutherford, Bill Lloyd and Buzz Cason. In late February, Holy, Lloyd, Rutherford, Cason, Restless Heart, Ty Herndon, Peter Noone and other friends and collaborators played a six-hour tribute concert in Mr. Cerney’s honor at Nashville’s Red Rooster Bar & Concert Hall.

Mr. Cerney is survived by his wife, Kip Kirby. Memorial information is incomplete.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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One Response to Our Far-Flung Alumni: Todd Cerney ’76

  1. Jennifer Rudolph says:

    Dear Earlham Alumni,
    My name is Jennifer Rudolph and I am Todd Cerney’s stepdaughter. I saw Todd for the last time exactly two weeks ago today at his home in Nashville, TN. The very next day, he was put in hospice and now already, he is gone.
    In our last few minutes with Todd, he shared a funny college story that I want pass along to his fellow alumni in hopes that maybe you will get a chuckle as I did.
    My daughter Sarah (16) and my son Jeremiah (17) had traveled down to Nashville to attend the benefit concert for Todd. We were just about to head to the airport to leave for home when we knew the time had come to say goodbye to Todd. Though groggy from his pain medication, Todd looked handsome (albeit a frailer version of his normal self). He had been sleeping upright on the cream leather sofa in the living room when we timidly approached to speak his name and see if he could wakeup long enough for our final farewell to him. He came to immediately and for a few brief minutes was the same Todd I had always known. He asked my son Jeremiah, if he had selected a college yet, and then went on to share this: “Yeah, I didn’t like filling out all those college essays cause I never wrote things like other people wrote. Like the time when an essay asked us to write about their favorite hero. Everyone else wrote about people like John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King. I wrote that my hero was Chet Atkins.” We all shared a laugh and that will always remain as my last memory of him. We will miss you Todd.

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