Tracy Chapman (born March 30, 1964) is an American singer-songwriter, known for her smash hits "Fast Car" and "Give Me One Reason", along with other successful singles "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution", "Baby Can I Hold You", "Crossroads", "New Beginning" and "Telling Stories". She is a multi-platinum and four-time Grammy Award-winning artist.
Chapman burst onto the scene in 1988 when Elektra released her critically acclaimed, multi-million selling debut album, which garnered Chapman six Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year, three of which she won, including Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her single Fast Car. Since then, Chapman has furthered her success with seven more studio albums, which includes her also multi-million selling forth album New Beginning, which garnered her a forth Grammy award, for Best Rock Song, for "Give Me One Reason". Chapman's latest release is 2008's Our Bright Future.
Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She was raised by her mother, who recognized Tracy's love of music and, despite not having much money, bought her a ukulele when she was just three. Chapman began playing guitar and writing songs at the age of eight. She says that she may have been first inspired to play the guitar by the television show Hee Haw.
Raised Baptist, Chapman attended an Episcopal high school. She was accepted into the program "A Better Chance", which helps minority students attend private schools. She graduated from Wooster School in Connecticut, then attended Tufts University. She graduated with a B.A. degree in anthropology and African studies.
During college, Chapman began busking in Harvard Square and playing guitar in Club Passim, the Nameless Coffeehouse, and other coffeehouses in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Another Tufts student, Brian Koppelman, heard Chapman playing and brought her to the attention of his father, Charles Koppelman. Koppelman, who ran SBK Publishing, signed Chapman in 1986. After Chapman graduated from Tufts in 1987, he helped her to sign a contract with Elektra Records.
At Elektra, she released Tracy Chapman (1988). The album was critically acclaimed, and she began touring and building a fanbase. "Fast Car" began its rise on the US charts soon after she performed it at the televised Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert in June 1988; it became a number 6 pop hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending August 27, 1988. Rolling Stone ranked the song number 167 on their 2010 list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". It is the highest-ranking song both written and performed by a female performer. "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution", the follow-up, charted at number 75 and was followed by "Baby Can I Hold You", which peaked at number 48. The album sold well, going multi-platinum and winning three Grammy Awards, including an honor for Chapman as Best New Artist. Later in 1988, Chapman was a featured performer on the worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour. According to the VH1 website, "Her album helped usher in the era of political correctness—along with 10,000 Maniacs and R.E.M., Chapman's liberal politics proved enormously influential on American college campuses in the late '80s."
Her follow-up album Crossroads (1989) was less commercially successful, but still achieved platinum status. By 1992's Matters of the Heart, Chapman was playing to a small and devoted audience. Her fourth album New Beginning (1995) proved successful, selling over three million copies in the U.S. The album included the hit single "Give Me One Reason", which won the 1997 Grammy for Best Rock Song and became Chapman's most successful single to date, peaking at Number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Following a four-year hiatus, her fifth album, Telling Stories, was released in 2000. Its hit single, "Telling Stories", received heavy airplay on European radio stations and on Adult Alternative and Hot AC stations in the United States. Chapman toured Europe and the US in 2003 in support of her sixth album, Let It Rain (2002).
To support her seventh studio album, Where You Live (2005), Chapman toured major US cities in October and throughout Europe over the remainder of the year. The "Where You Live" tour was extended into 2006; the 28-date European tour featured summer concerts in Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the UK, Russia and more. On June 5, 2006, she performed at the 5th Gala of Jazz in Lincoln Center, New York, and in a session at the 2007 TED (Technology Entertainment Design) conference in Monterey, California.
Chapman was commissioned by the American Conservatory Theater to compose music for its production of Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, a play on apartheid in South Africa, staged in early 2008.
Atlantic Records released Chapman's eighth studio album, Our Bright Future (2008). Chapman made a 26-date solo tour of Europe. She returned to tour Europe and selected North American cities during the summer of 2009. She was backed by Joe Gore on guitars, Patrick Warren on keyboards, and Dawn Richardson on percussion.
Chapman was appointed a member of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Documentary jury.
Chapman is widely regarded as a politically and socially active musician. In a 2009 interview with American radio network NPR, she is quoted as saying: "I'm approached by lots of organizations and lots of people who want me to support their various charitable efforts in some way. And I look at those requests and I basically try to do what I can. And I have certain interests of my own, generally an interest in human rights." This interest in human rights can be seen lyrically in her music. Songs such as 1988's "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" highlight the importance of speaking up against injustice:
Don't you know, talking 'bout a revolution sounds like a whisper / when they're standing in the welfare lines.
Chapman's song "Fast Car" also brings awareness to the struggles of poverty, with lyrics such as:
I know things will get better / you'll find work and I'll get promoted / we'll move out of the shelter / buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs
Chapman's activism extends further than her lyrics. She has performed at numerous socially aware events, and continues to do so. In 1988, she performed in London as part of a worldwide concert tour to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with Amnesty International. The same year Chapman also performed in the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, an event which raised money for South Africa's Anti-Apartheid Movement and seven children's charities. More recently, in 2004 Chapman performed (and rode) in the AIDSLifeCycle event.
Chapman has also been involved with Cleveland's elementary schools. A music video produced by Chapman that highlights significant achievements in African-American history has become an important teaching tool in Cleveland Public Schools. Chapman also agreed to sponsor a "Crossroads in Black History" essay contest for high school students in Cleveland and other cities.
In 2004, Chapman was given an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts by her alma mater, Tufts University, recognizing her commitment to social activism.
I'm fortunate that I've been able to do my work and be involved in certain organizations, certain endeavors, and offered some assistance in some way. Whether that is about raising money or helping to raise awareness, just being another body to show some force and conviction for a particular idea. Finding out where the need is - and if someone thinks you're going to be helpful, then helping.—Tracy Chapman
Chapman often performs at and attends charity events such as Make Poverty History, amfAR and AIDS/LifeCycle, to support social causes. She identifies as a feminist.
Although Chapman has never disclosed her sexual orientation, in the mid-1990s she dated writer Alice Walker. Chapman maintains a strong separation between her personal and professional lives. "I have a public life that's my work life and I have my personal life," she said. "In some ways, the decision to keep the two things separate relates to the work I do."
- 1988: Tracy Chapman
- 1989: Crossroads
- 1992: Matters of the Heart
- 1995: New Beginning
- 2000: Telling Stories
- 2002: Let It Rain
- 2005: Where You Live
- 2008: Our Bright Future
- "The Thrill Is Gone" with BB King from his album Deuces Wild
- "Give Me One Reason" with Eric Clapton from the album A Very Special Christmas Live
- "Baby Can I Hold You" with Pavarotti from the DVD/Album Pavarotti and Friends for Cambodia and Tibet
- "Ain't No Sunshine" with Buddy Guy from his album Bring 'Em In
- "Trench Town Rock" with Stephen and Ziggy Marley at the One Love Bob Marley All Star Tribute
- "The Maker" with Dave Matthews on October 21, 2001 at the Bridge School Benefit
- "The House of the Rising Sun" – Rubáiyát (LP)
- "The Times They Are A Changin" – Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration (LP)
- "O Holy Night" – A Very Special Christmas 3 (LP) and A Very Special Christmas Live (LP)
- "Three Little Birds" – Live at the One Love Bob Marley All Star Tribute
- "Get Up Stand Up" – by Bob Marley featured on the Let It Rain tour edition CD2 (LP)
- "Stand By Me" – by Ben E. King on the XM Hear Music Radio Sessions Volume 1 (LP)
Awards and nominations
- Grammy Award History
- Best New Artist (Won)
- Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Fast Car" (Won)
- Best Contemporary Folk Recording for Tracy Chapman (Won)
- Album of the Year for Tracy Chapman (Nominated)
- Record of the Year for "Fast Car" (Nominated)
- Song of the Year for "Fast Car" (Nominated)
- Best Contemporary Folk Recording for Crossroads (Nominated)
- Best Rock Song for "Give Me One Reason" (Won)
- Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "Give Me One Reason" (Nominated)
- Record of the Year for "Give Me One Reason" (Nominated)
- Song of the Year for "Give Me One Reason" (Nominated)
- Best Pop Album for New Beginning
- Best Contemporary Folk Album for Our Bright Future (Nominated)
- Other Awards
|1988||Billboard Music Awards||Best Female Video||"Tracy Chapman"||Won|
|1989||Soul Train Music Awards||Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Album of the Year, Female||Herself||Nominated|
|Grammy Awards||New Artist||Herself||Won|
|Best Female Pop Vocal Performance||Herself||Won|
|Song of the Year||"Fast Car"||Nominated|
|Best Contemporary Folk Recording||"Tracy Chapman"||Won|
|Album of the Year||"Tracy Chapman"||Nominated|
|Record of the Year||"Fast Car"||Nominated|
|BRIT Awards||International Breakout||Herself||Won|
|MTV Video Music Awards||Best Female Video||"Fast Car"||Nominated|
|American Music Awards||Favorite Pop Rock New Artist||Herself||Won|
|Favorite Pop Rock Female Artist||Herself||Nominated|
|1990||Grammy Awards||Best Contemporary Folk Recording||"Crossroads"||Nominated|
|1996||MTV Video Music Awards||Best Female Video||"Give Me One Reason"||Nominated|
|1997||Grammy Awards||Best Pop Album||"New Beginning"||Nominated|
|Best Rock Vocal Performance Female||Herself||Nominated|
|Best Rock Song||"Give Me One Reason"||Won|
|Song of the Year||"Give Me One Reason"||Nominated|
|Record of the Year||"Give Me One Reason"||Nominated|
|2002||IFPI Platinum Europe Music Awards||Album Title||"Collection"||Won|
|2006||Meteor Ireland Music Awards||Best International Female||Herself||Nominated|
|2009||SXSWi: Web Awards Honor||Pop Music||Herself||Nominated|
|2010||Grammy Awards||Best Contemporary Folk Recording||"Our Bright Future"||Nominated|
- , Official website
- , Atlantic Records
- , Official Website, education program for minority students
|Awards and achievements|
Grammy Award for Best New Artist
Milli Vanilli (Award later revoked)
for "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
for "Fast Car"
for "Nick of Time"
for Unfinished Business
Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album
for Tracy Chapman
for Indigo Girls
Glen Ballard and Alanis Morissette
for "You Oughta Know"
Grammy Award for Best Rock Song
for "Give Me One Reason"
for "One Headlight"