Tracy Chapman was born March 30th, 1964, in Cleveland Ohio. At age three, her mother brought her a ukulele despite having very little money and that gift led to seven albums, tens of millions sold, four Grammy Awards and worldwide recognition as one of the most important singer-songwriters of the 1980s and ‘90s.
With school desegregation the norm and racial unrest abounding in Cleveland, Chapman’s mother enrolled her in a program called “A Better Chance,” which sponsored students to attend college preparatory schools away from home. That landed her at the Wooster School in Connecticut. The ukulele was now a guitar and she started in front of live audiences.
MOVE TO CAMBRIDGE, ELEKTRA SIGNING, DEBUT ALBUM
Her unique sound, style and appearance led her to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she played outdoors in Harvard Square and eventually indoors at venues including Club Passim the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. In 1987, upon graduation from Tufts University, Chapman signed with Elektra.
Elektra released her eponymous debut album in 1988 and it took the world by storm, the singles ”Fast Car,” “Baby, Can I Hold You” and “Talkin’ ’bout A Revolution” quickly becoming staples on radio stations across the US and staying there for two years. The album won three Grammys, including Best New Artist, and sold 10 million copies worldwide.
Chapman recorded three other LPs before the turn of the century, Crossroads (1989), Matters of the Heart (1992) and New Beginning (1995), the last of which sold three million copies and earned her another Grammy for the song “Give Me The Reason.” Since 2000, she has cut four more, Telling Stories (2000), Let It Rain (2002), Where You Live (2005) and Our Bright Future (2008). In 2015, Elektra issued greatest hits collection.
Despite not having released any new material for 15 years, Chapman has made numerous high-profile appearances, including one at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute and another performing for Buddy Guy at the Kennedy Center Honors. She’s made regular appearances at festivals, once performed on The David Letterman Show with B.B. King – which resulted in a hit single, the duo’s rendition King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” – and her performance of ”Give Me A Reason” with Eric Clapton went viral. Chapman is a jury member for the documentary portion of the Sundance Film Festival.
COMMENTS ON LIMITED RECORDING, TOURING
Asked in a 2015 interview with The Irish Times why she hadn’t recorded and/or toured more often in recent years, she explained her discomfort with being in the limelight. “Being in the public eye and under the glare the spotlight was, and it is still to some extent, uncomfortable for me,” she said. “There are some ways in which everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for this career. But I am a bit shy.”
NICKI MINAJ LEGAL SETTLEMENT, FUTURE ALBUMS
In January of 2020, Chapman was awarded $450,000 in a settlement with rapper Nicki Minaj who sampled her song ,”Baby, Can I Hold You Tonight” without her permission.
She says she still has plenty of music in her and is working on material. In fact, she says that her favorite song is the one she’s working on right now. Like all artists true to themselves, she’ll pick her time wisely and decide when to release new material, I’m sure. And hopefully we’ll get a chance to see this wonderful singer-songwriter – whose career started right here in Boston and Cambridge and led her to worldwide acclaim – perform again.
(by Edwin Sumpter)