Tracy Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where she developed an early love for music. That love led her to begin writing poetry and songs. On a scholarship to the prestigious Tufts University in Boston, she studied African culture and anthropology. She also introduced her unique folk sound to local coffeehouses. Eventually, someone noticed her immense talent and she was signed with Elektra Records in 1987.
In early 1988, Chapman released a self-titled album, her first album. Chapman’s music stood out immediately because it clashed with the pop-like synthesizers of the 1980’s. Her sound was more simple; it featured acoustic guitars and subtle drum beats. Her lyrics were powerful and spoke of her experience growing up poor in an inner-city environment. Specifically, her first album featured songs that dealt with racism, violence towards women and welfare in America. While Chapman’s initial album met with great success, it was her performance of her hit single “Fast Car” at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute concert in Wembley, England, that propelled her even further. Chapman became known as an artist interested in a cause. Although she may not view herself as an activist, she does believe that using music to stand up for the things you believe in is important. She has spent time playing with the Amnesty International Human Rights Now tour and lent support to other benefit shows as well. Chapman has continued to record and has produced seven albums.
One of my favorite Chapman songs, among many, is Talkin’ Bout a Revolution. This song deals with poverty and welfare in America and the “revolution” that will take place, when poor people rise up and “take their share.”
Chapman’s songs are beautiful, lyrical poems, the content of which ranges from poignant love ballads to political and social commentary. Her sound is folky and calming. She has a distinct, one-of-a-kind voice that contributes to the uniqueness of her music. It seems rare that an artist with such excellent talent and ability would use that to also influence change by speaking about injustices with stirring and inspiring lyrics.
Chapman has been awarded numerous Grammy Awards including: Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Fast Car" in 1989), Best Contemporary Folk Recording, and Best Rock Song ("Give Me One Reason" in 1997). In July 1999, Chapman was ranked #54 on VH1's "The 100 Greatest Women of Rock 'N Roll" program. Her latest album is “Let It Rain.”