Chandler showed an early interest in music and began playing piano at age 8. Studying classical music in his early teens, he learned to play the oboe so he could join the high school band, and during his senior year joined the Akron Symphony Orchestra. He eventually earned his B.A. in Music Education from the University of Akron, moved to New York City, and received an M.A. from Columbia University.
By the early 1960s, Chandler began to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He sang at demonstrations and rallies and won a reputation as a protest songwriter. One of his most famous songs was "Beans in My Ears", which was covered by the Serendipity Singers, as well as Pete Seeger. He also served as one of the original crew members of Seeger's CLEARWATER organization, working to save the environment around the Hudson River Valley. One of Chandler's songs entitled "Run Come See the Sun", was sung by Pete Seeger at the Sanders Theater in Boston in the year 1980. This song had a repeated phrase, which built up the harmony as well. (Source: Pete Seeger concert at the Sanders Theater, released on Smithsonian Folkways Records.)