Four-time Grammy Award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Tracy Chapman picked up the guitar at the impressionable age of eight years old and subsequently began to change the world one chord at a time. Her modest upbringing in a single-mother household with very little money or resources propelled Chapman to dig deep and channel her harrowing experiences through songwriting and music. She was one of the first African American singer-songwriters to openly discuss race, politics, segregation, and slavery in modern-day music.
Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio on March 30, 1964. She was accepted into the prestigious and private, co-educational Wooster School in Danbury, Connecticut before attending Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated in 1987 with a B.A. degree in anthropology and African studies. Years later, in 2004, Tufts University would award Chapman with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree to celebrate her committed contributions to society throughout her music career.
Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts became Chapman’s stomping ground in the early days leading up to her first recording contract. The expansive triangular area in the heart of the populous city showcased the best up-and-coming artists as they stood with anticipation only a stone’s throw away from famed Harvard University. Chapman signed a record deal with Elektra Records in 1987.
Chapman was invited to sing her first hit off her debut album, Tracy Chapman, at the televised Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert in June 1988. “Fast Car” would go on to earn her a Grammy Award for “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” in 1989 and a large fan following in the United States would become the result. Three more Grammy Awards would follow, including: Grammy Award for “Best New Artist” in 1989, Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Folk Album” for Tracy Chapman also in 1989 and Grammy Award for “Best Rock Song” for “Give Me One Reason” in 1997. A total of eight studio albums were released throughout Chapman’s career.
In 2008, Chapman composed original music for an acclaimed play by Athol Fugard with the subject of apartheid in South Africa at its core. The American Conservatory Theater’s production of Blood Knot was the successful result of this collaborative effort.
While she has never chosen to publicly discuss her sexuality with the press, instead focusing on her music in interviews, Chapman has been linked to The Color Purple author Alice Walker, among other women. When the subject of their affair in the 1990’s came up in an interview with Walker for The Guardian, Walker recalled that their affair was never really a secret. “It was quiet to you maybe but that’s because you didn’t live in our area.” Walker has kept journals recounting her romantic relationship with Chapman and hopes to release them in the future.
* Photo originally published on AtlanticRecords.com