Tracy Chapman was born March 30th, 1964 in Cleveland Ohio. At 3 years old her mother brought her a ukulele despite having so little money. That ukulele would lead to seven albums, millions sold, Grammy Awards and recognition as one of the most important singer-songwriters of the 1980s and 1990s.
With school desegregation and racial unrest abound in Cleveland, Tracy’s mother enrolled her in a program called “A Better Chance” which sponsored students to college preparatory high schools away from their home. The program landed Tracy at the Wooster School in Connecticut. The ukulele was now a guitar and Tracy was playing in front of live audiences. Her unique sound, style and appearance led her to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she would play outdoors in Harvard Square and eventually inside at Club Passim. Tracy would also play the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. In 1987 right after graduating from Tufts University Tracy was signed to Elektra Music.
Her debut album, Tracy Chapman, was released in 1988 and it took the world by storm. The singles ”Fast Car”, “Baby, Can I Hold You,” and “Talkin’ ’bout A Revolution” became staples on radio stations throughout the country for 2 years. The album would win 3 Grammy awards including best new Artist for Chapman and sell 10 million copies worldwide.
After two more albums Tracy’s fourth album, New Beginningsm would also sell 3 million copies and would include another Grammy award winning song “Give Me The Reason.”
Tracy’s last album of original material was Our Bright Future, released in 2008. That album was supported by her last major tour as well. A greatest hits album was released by Tracy in 2015. Despite releasing no new material in 15 years Tracy has made numerous appearances like the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute, she performed for Buddy Guy at the Kennedy’s Honors and music festivals. She was even appointed a member of the Sundance film festival Documentary jury. An appearance on David Letterman with BB King led to a hit single, a duo remake of BB King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” She would also perform ”Give Me A Reason” with Eric Clapton that became a viral hit.
Many were under the impression that Tracy no longer tours or records but in a 2015 with the Irish Times, she made clear that is not the point. She stated in that interview “Being in the public eye and under the glare the spotlight was and it is still to some extent, uncomfortable for me but there are some ways by which everything has happened in my life has prepared me for this career. But I am a bit shy.”
In January of 2020 Tracy Chapman was awarded $450,000 in a settlement with rapper Nicki Minaj who sampled her song ,”Baby, Can I Hold You Tonight” without Tracy’s permission.
Tracy still has plenty of music in her and is still working on material. In fact, she states that her favorite song is the one she’s working on. Like all artists true to themselves, she’ll pick her time wisely and decide when to release new material. 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)