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Tracy Chapman Biography
Tracy Chapman helped restore singer/songwriters to the
spotlight in the '80s. The multi-platinum success of Chapman's
eponymous 1988 debut was unexpected, and it had lasting impact.
Although Chapman was working from the same confessional
singer/songwriter foundation that had been popularized in the '70s, her
songs were fresh and powerful, driven by simple melodies and affecting
lyrics. At the time of her first album, there were only a handful of
artists performing such a style successfully, and her success ushered
in a new era of singer/songwriters that lasted well into the '90s.
Furthermore, 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. Of course, such implications meant that Chapman's subsequent
recordings were greeted with mixed reactions, but after several years
out of the spotlight, she managed to make a very successful comeback in
1996 with her fourth album, New Beginning, thanks to the Top Ten single
Give Me One Reason.
Raised in a working class neighborhood in Cleveland, OH, Chapman
learned how to play guitar as a child, and began to write her own songs
shortly afterward. Following high school, she won a minority placement
scholarship and decided to attend Tufts University, where she studied
anthropology and African studies. While at Tufts, she became fascinated
with folk-rock and singer/songwriters, and began performing her own
songs at coffeehouses. Eventually, she recorded a set of demos at the
college radio station. One of her fellow students, Brian Koppelman,
heard Chapman play and recommended her to his father, Charles
Koppelman, who ran SBK Publishing. In 1986, she signed with SBK and
Koppelman secured a management contract with Elliot Roberts, who had
worked with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Roberts and Koppelman helped
Chapman sign to Elektra in 1987.
Chapman recorded her debut album with David Kershenbaum, and the
resulting eponymous record was released in the spring of 1988. Tracy
Chapman was greeted with enthusiastic reviews, and she set out on the
road supporting 10,000 Maniacs. Within a few months, she played at the
internationally televised concert for Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday
party, where her performance was greeted with thunderous applause.
Soon, the single Fast Car began climbing the charts, eventually
peaking at number six. The album's sales soared along with the single,
and by the end of the year, the record had gone multi-platinum. Early
the following year, the record won four Grammys, including Best New
It was an auspicious beginning to Chapman's career, and it was perhaps
inevitable that her second album, 1989's darker, more political
Crossroads, wasn't as successful. Although it was well-reviewed, the
album wasn't as commercially successful, peaking at number nine and
quickly falling down the charts. Following Crossroads, Chapman spent a
few years in seclusion, returning in 1992 with Matters of the Heart.
The album was greeted with mixed reviews and weak sales, and Chapman
had fallen into cult status. Three years later, she returned with New
Beginning, which received stronger reviews than its predecessor. The
bluesy Give Me One Reason was pulled as the first single, and it
slowly became a hit, sending the album into the U.S. Top Ten in early
1996. It was a quiet, successful comeback from an artist most observers
had already consigned to forever languish in cult status. Telling
Stories followed in early 2000. Let It Rain followed two years later.
For 2005's Where You Live, Chapman co-produced the album with Tchad
Blake. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
Written by Stephen Thomas Erlewine