Tracy Chapman

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About Tracy Chapman

When Tracy Chapman came into view in the late ’80s, her star surged seemingly overnight with a refreshing disregard for the borders of gender, race, and style. She blended folk, rock, pop, and soul influences into socially conscious, smoldering songs that were plainly political—and undeniably catchy. Chapman was born in Cleveland in 1964, and her early life was full of financial and social struggles that would eventually fuel her songwriting. While attending college in Massachusetts, she started performing as a folk singer in local coffeehouses and busking in Harvard Square. She caught the ear of Elektra Records, which released her self-titled debut in 1988. Singing about poverty, racism, and political unrest, she brought sociopolitical issues to the American pop and rock mainstream with a passion that recalled the protest anthems of the Vietnam era. Propelled by her Top 10 single “Fast Car” and the stung but hopeful “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” the album became an international multi-Platinum phenomenon. In the years that followed, she moved forward by never striking the same note, as evidenced by the Grammy-winning “Give Me One Reason.” A far cry from folk-inflected protest, it was a hard-grooving blues grinder about a worn and weary heart that showed that it was unwise to count her out or pigeonhole her. Chapman released a smattering of albums in the 2000s, and in 2023 she returned to the spotlight thanks to country crooner Luke Combs’ reverent cover of “Fast Car,” which made her the first Black woman to win a trophy at the Country Music Association Awards—showing how her artistry could break boundaries decades after her debut had gripped listeners.

Cleveland, OH, United States
March 30, 1964
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