Chris Nurthen isn’t your typical USNA graduate. Yes, he did serve as a surface warfare officer (SWO) after his time as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. In fact, he is still an active part of the Navy Reserve. Yet he is also an aspiring alternative singer/songwriter, following his dream while building a family business that harmoniously melds with a burgeoning music career. Here is his surprising story.
Making Music as a Midshipman
Nurthen was first inspired to write songs and play the acoustic guitar while at Great Valley High School in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. He graduated in 2010 and went on to the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) in Newport, Rhode Island, the next year. Soon after, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, where his brother John Michael (‘13) played football. The Nurthens have deep roots in Annapolis, since uncles Bob Amundson (`69) and Bill Nurthen (`70) also count USNA as their alma mater.
At the Academy, Nurthen was soon thrust into the life of a midshipman, while also playing a vital role as a defensive lineman on the USNA football team. Even with these demanding commitments, he never stopped performing his music. In fact, he and John debuted their “N*ot College” song for the football team end-of-training-camp talent show when the younger Nurthen was still a plebe. When he recorded an extended play (EP) in Bancroft Hall, the coaching staff liked it so much they let the team play the music for warm ups.
A Special Sponsor Family
While at the U.S. Naval Academy, Nurthen says, he worked hard. “We kind of grew up fast at the Academy. And it wasn’t like your typical college experience…No regrets at all about being there. It’s just hard.” His best memories are still vivid—and highly formative. Nurthen says, “In no order, my favorite times were playing football, gut-busting late night laughs with my roommates, recording my first EP in the Bancroft’s basement and meeting my wife.”
Those last two would prove fateful, helping to shape the trajectory of his life and later, his career. It all started at the Academy. As a midshipman, Nurthen often visited his sponsor family—Aunt Patience “Pay” and Uncle Bob Amundson—who lived in nearby Arnold, Maryland. He described those times as a “sanctuary” which helped him through “the grind” that was being a midshipman.
Unfortunately, his aunt passed away in 2016 after battling cancer. Right after her funeral, Nurthen was moved to write the song “Bay Dale,” which affectionately references their exit off of Route 50 as a tribute to his time with Pay and her husband, as well as his time at the Naval Academy. You can see footage of the song coming together as he and his family have an emotional impromptu songwriting session in Patience’s living room right after her funeral. It was a cathartic experience for Nurthen—and one that he wanted to repeat.
Flash forward to today. Nurthen is an O-3/LT in the Navy Reserves; he and his wife Keri and their three young children live in Memphis, Tennessee, where Keri was born and raised. Together, they run a food truck business called SweetNur’s Home of the Iron Pie, aptly housed in a farmhouse-style horse trailer.
The name “SweetNur” is a college nickname that is perfectly suited to his current endeavors, and the “iron pie” is a play on the pie irons that he would roast over campfires on Midwest camping trips with family. Nurthen and his friends back home in Philly loved to experiment with the fillings, which they called “flavor blasts.” Now, SweetNur’s sells almost any combination imaginable, at weddings, school fairs, birthday parties, engagement parties, you name it—and Nurthen has found a way to combine his loves by performing his music at these events, which he and Keri call “HouseShows.”
You can catch SweetNur HouseShows at homes all around Memphis, and Nurthen has plans to expand them further. “The original vision always included a SweetNur HouseShow tour up the East Coast and…. I can affirm the plans are brewing.” So far this year, Nurthen has released five songs and one EP called “Central Station” under his label, SweetNur Music. Songs like “John Denver,” “Misunderstood” and “Josephine” capture what he calls the “beautiful struggle of life.” “All the stories I’ve ever wanted to share are in my songwriting. I have a series of concept EPs we will be releasing in 2023 that explore marriage, fatherhood, my time at sea and spirituality,” explains Nurthen. His music is on Spotify and Apple Music, as well as on YouTube. “I could only ask that folks tune in and follow @sweetnurmusic wherever they listen to music and on their socials,” Nurthen says.
His self-proclaimed roots-rock style has been compared to Dave Matthews and David Gray by Americana Highways, and one reviewer felt him channel the storytelling magic of John Mellencamp and Van Morrison. Combining these sounds with the innovative flavor blasts of iron pies has been a great recipe for success. His persistence has earned him a growing fan base for both. For midshipmen today, Nurthen has this advice: “Accept the commitment and embrace the adversity. You will find yourself sharper and better equipped for your pursuits further along.” He has lived these words.
The Music Continues
We are proud to salute Nurthen’s efforts in bringing joy to people through his music. The Naval Academy’s commitment to excellence lives on through our USNA graduates as they make the world a better place. The musical tradition on the Yard is strong too, and we encourage you to experience it for yourself. There’s even an Anchors Aweigh Music Tour to enjoy. Every trip to the Yard benefits the midshipmen, since profits from tours, dining, shopping and visiting go directly to the Brigade. Come see the place that inspired Nurthen, and enjoy some SweetNur music on your travels for a little inspiration yourself!
Please Note: The events, companies, destinations and/or products mentioned in this article are only suggestions. Readers should not consider these suggestions as an endorsement by the United States Naval Academy or any other component of the Department of Defense.