Who is Tracy Chapman? The First-ever Black Woman to Have Sole Songwriting Credit on a Country Chart-topper

Tracy Chapman, a four-time Grammy winner, began writing music and performing in Boston, where she recorded songs at the WMFO radio station. Her big break came in 1986, when a friend’s father introduced her to an Elektra Records manager. Her self-titled debut album was published in 1988.

The album’s most popular hit, “Fast Car,” peaked at No. 5 in the United Kingdom and No. 6 in the United States. A few years later, Chapman released New Beginning, another critically acclaimed album that featured the smash song “Give Me One Reason.” Despite the fact that her 1995 triumph has yet to be replicated, Chapman remains active as an activist, speaking and performing on behalf of many charities.

Early Life

Tracy Chapman was born on March 30, 1964, in Cleveland, Ohio. She relocated to Connecticut with her family when she was a child. Chapman began producing music and performing in Boston while studying anthropology and African studies at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He also recorded songs at the local WMFO radio station.

Musical Career: Songs and Albums

Chapman’s big break came in 1986, when a friend’s father connected her to an Elektra Records management, with whom she recorded her first self-titled album, which was published in 1988.

Tracy Chapman reached No. 1 in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and its hit song, “Fast Car,” peaked at No. 5 in the United Kingdom and No. 6 in the United States.

That same year, Chapman played at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute Concert in the United Kingdom. The album’s second hit, “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution,” received much praise and charted on Billboard.

Following the release of Tracy Chapman, the performer garnered various accolades, including three Grammy Awards in 1989. She received awards for Best New Artist, Female Pop Vocal Performer, and Contemporary Folk Album.

Being a three-time Grammy winner for a musician’s debut project is quite an accomplishment, but Chapman didn’t waste any time in getting to work on her next one. In between tracks from her Grammy-winning album, she continued to create and return to the studio to record Crossroads (1989), which she also co-produced. “Freedom Now,” a song on the album dedicated to Mandela, was written by Chapman. Although the album did not get the same critical acclaim as her debut, it did rank on the Billboard 200 and other industry charts.

The singer-songwriter’s musical career slipped slightly again in 1992, with the release of Matters of the Heart, an album that reached at No. 53 on the Billboard 200 but received little international recognition.Matters of the Heart included fewer noteworthy songs than Chapman’s prior releases, and her departure from folk and blues to a more peppy, alternative-rock style turned off admirers.

Three years later, with the release of Chapman’s fourth studio album, things changed. New Beginning (1995), as the album’s title suggests, was a step back into the spotlight for the performer, selling approximately 5 million copies in the United States alone.

The album greatly eclipsed Chapman’s prior endeavors in terms of popularity, thanks to the enormously successful hit “Give Me One Reason,” as well as catchy, soulful songs like “Smoke and Ashes” and the album’s title track, “New Beginning.” Chapman won her fourth Grammy Award in 1997, for Best Rock Song (“Give Me One Reason”), in addition to other Grammy nominations and other music prizes.

Chapman’s success in 1995 has yet to be replicated. Since the release of New Beginning, the musician has released a number of albums, including Telling Stories (2000) and Our Bright Future (2008), and toured throughout 2009. Chapman, on the other hand, has mainly stayed out of the spotlight in recent years.

CMA Award Nomination

When country musician Luke Combs recorded a cover version of “Fast Car” in April 2023, Chapman saw a rebirth of attention and success. Combs’ version of the song went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received over 65 million Spotify streams in less than two months. As a result of the cover, Chapman became the first Black woman to receive sole songwriting credit for a No. 1 country hit.

Chapman said of Combs’ version of the song: “I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there. I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’”

“Fast Car” earned Chapman a CMA Award nomination for Song of the Year in September 2023, more than 35 years after the original song’s premiere. Combs was nominated for Single of the Year.

Social Activist

Chapman has long been an activist, lecturing and performing on behalf of various charitable groups, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Circle of Life (now defunct). During a charity event in 2003, Chapman and Bonnie Raitt sang a remarkable duet of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”

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