Tracy Chapman

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Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman 3.jpg
Chapman in Bruges, 2009
Background information
Born (1964-03-30) March 30, 1964 (age 54)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • harmonica
Years active 1986–present
Labels Elektra

Tracy Chapman (born March 30, 1964) is an American singer-songwriter, known for her hits "Fast Car" and "Give Me One Reason", along with other 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.[1]

Chapman was signed to Elektra Records by Bob Krasnow in 1987. The following year she released her critically acclaimed debut album Tracy Chapman, which became a multi-platinum worldwide hit. The album garnered Chapman six Grammy Award nominations, including Album of the Year, three of which she won, including Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her single "Fast Car", and Best New Artist. Chapman released her second album Crossroads the following year, which garnered her an additional Grammy nomination. Since then, Chapman has experienced further success with six more studio albums, which include her multi-platinum fourth album New Beginning, for which she won a fourth Grammy Award, for Best Rock Song, for its lead single "Give Me One Reason". Chapman's most recent release is Our Bright Future, in 2008.

Early life

Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She was raised by her mother who bought her music-loving three-year-old daughter a ukulele despite having little money. [2] Chapman began playing the guitar and writing songs at age eight. She says that she may have been first inspired to play the guitar by the television show Hee Haw.[3]

Raised as a Baptist, Chapman attended an Episcopal high school[3] and was accepted into the program A Better Chance, which sponsors students at college preparatory high schools away from their home community. She graduated from Wooster School in Connecticut, then attended Tufts University,[2] graduating with a B.A. degree in Anthropology and African studies.[4]


During college, Chapman began busking in Harvard Square and playing guitar in Club Passim, the Nameless Coffeehouse, and other coffeehouses in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[citation needed] She made her major-stage debut as an opening act for women's music pioneer Linda Tillery at Boston's Strand Theater on May 3, 1985.[5] 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.[4]

Chapman in Budapest, Hungary, 1988

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".[6] 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."[7]

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.[8]

Atlantic Records released Chapman's eighth studio album, Our Bright Future (2008).[9] 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.[10]

Chapman was appointed a member of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Documentary jury.[11]

Chapman performed Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" on one of the final episodes of the Late Show with David Letterman in April 2015. The performance became a viral hit and was the focus of various news articles including some by Billboard and The Huffington Post.[12]

On November 20, 2015, Chapman released her Greatest Hits album. Consisting of 18 tracks including the live version of "Stand By Me", the album is Chapman's first global compilation release.[13]

Social activism

Chapman is a politically and socially active musician. In a 2009 interview with American radio network NPR, she said, "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."[3] 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.[14] 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.[15] In 2004, Chapman performed (and rode) in the AIDS/LifeCycle event.[16]

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.[17]

Chapman received an honorary doctorate from Saint Xavier University in Chicago in 1997.[18] In 2004, Chapman was given an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts by her alma mater, Tufts University, recognizing her commitment to social activism.[19]

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[20]

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.[21]

Personal life

Although Chapman has never publicly disclosed her sexual orientation, during the mid-1990s she was in a relationship with writer Alice Walker.[22] Chapman maintains a strong separation between her personal and professional life. "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."[23]

In October 2018, Chapman sued the rapper Nicki Minaj over copyright infringement, alleging that Minaj had sampled her song "Baby Can I Hold You" without permission.[24] Chapman's lawsuit requested an injunction to prevent Minaj releasing the song "Sorry" and stated that she had "repeatedly denied" permission for "Baby Can I Hold You" to be sampled. Chapman had previously expressed her reservations about being sampled.



Duet songs:

Covered songs:

Awards and nominations

Year Ceremony Award Nominated Work Result
1988 Billboard Music Awards Best Female Video "Fast Car" Won
1989 Soul Train Music Awards Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Album of the Year, Female Tracy Chapman Nominated
Danish Music Awards Best International Album Won
BRIT Awards Best International Breakthrough Act Herself Won
Best International Solo Female Won
Edison Awards Best Singer/Songwriter 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 Nominated
1993 ECHO Awards Best International Female Nominated
1996 MTV Video Music Awards Best Female Video "Give Me One Reason" Nominated
APRA Music Awards Most Performed Foreign Work Nominated
2001 California Music Awards Outstanding Female Vocalist Herself 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

Grammy Awards

Year Nominee/work Award Result
1989 N/A Best New Artist Won
Tracy Chapman Album of the Year Nominated
Best Contemporary Folk Album Won
"Fast Car" Song of the Year Nominated
Record of the Year Nominated
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Won
1990 Crossroads Best Contemporary Folk Album Nominated
1997 New Beginning Best Pop Album Nominated
"Give Me One Reason" Song of the Year Nominated
Record of the Year Nominated
Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Nominated
Best Rock Song Won
2010 Our Bright Future Best Contemporary Folk Album Nominated


  1. ^ GRAMMY Award Winners Archived December 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b Williamson, Nigel (July 2001). "Tracy Chapman's Biography". Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Martin, Michael (August 20, 2009). "Without Further Ado, Songster Tracy Chapman Returns". National Public Radio.
  4. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Tracy Chapman". All Music Guide – via
  5. ^ McLaughlin, Jeff (May 1, 1985). "Linda Tillery's 'healing music'". Boston Globe. Boston, MA. p. 78.
  6. ^ "500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Tracy Chapman, 'Fast Car'". Rolling Stone. May 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  7. ^ "Tracy Chapman" Archived March 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "A.C.T. Tackles Big Issues in Fugard's Blood Knot". American Conservatory Theater. January 18, 2008. Archived from the original on April 8, 2009.
  9. ^ "Tracy Chapman". Atlantic Records. Archived from the original on November 12, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2009.
  10. ^ "2009 – Our Bright Future Summer European + US Tour", About Tracy Chapman, December 22, 2008.
  11. ^ "Tracy Chapman, Dana Stevens, Bryan Singer, Max Mayer and More Among 2014 Sundance Film Festival Jurors". Broadway World. January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  12. ^ Pitney, Nico (June 13, 2015). "Tracy Chapman Singing 'Stand By Me' Will Break Your Heart". Huffington Post. Retrieved November 22, 2015.
  13. ^ "Tracy Chapman Greatest Hits releases on Nov 20, 2015". About Tracy Chapman. October 16, 2015. Retrieved November 22, 2015.
  14. ^ "Who We Are/History". Amnesty International. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  15. ^ "Live Aid's Legacy of Charity Concerts". BBC News. June 30, 2005. Retrieved October 10, 2011.
  16. ^ "AIDS LifeCycle 2004". Online Posting. Youtube. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  17. ^ "School Uses Video To Teach Black History". Curriculum Review. 29 (8): 11. 1990.
  18. ^ "Previous honorary degree recipients". Saint Xavier University. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  19. ^ "Commencement Speaker Announced". E-News. Tufts University. February 13, 2004. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  20. ^ Younge, Gary (September 28, 2002). "A Militant Mellow". The Guardian. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  21. ^ Amy Fleming (October 31, 2008). "The quiet revolutionary". The Guardian. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  22. ^ Wajid, Sara, "No retreat", The Guardian, December 15, 2006.
  23. ^ "2002 – Tracy Chapman still introspective?", About Tracy Chapman, October 2002.
  24. ^

External links

  • Official website
  • Tracy Chapman at AllMusic
  • Tracy Chapman discography at Discogs
  • Tracy Chapman at Curlie
  • Atlantic Records page
  • "A Better Chance" education program for minority students
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Jody Watley
Grammy Award for Best New Artist
Succeeded by
Milli Vanilli (Award later revoked)
Preceded by
Whitney Houston
for "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
for "Fast Car"
Succeeded by
Bonnie Raitt
for "Nick of Time"
Preceded by
Steve Goodman
for Unfinished Business
Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album
for Tracy Chapman
Succeeded by
Indigo Girls
for Indigo Girls
Preceded by
Glen Ballard and Alanis Morissette
for "You Oughta Know"
Grammy Award for Best Rock Song
for "Give Me One Reason"
Succeeded by
for "One Headlight"
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