Who Is Tracy Chapman?

Musician Tracy Chapman began writing music and performing in Boston, where she recorded songs at the WMFO radio station. She caught her big break in 1986, when a friend's father introduced her to a manager at Elektra Records, and soon recorded Tracy Chapman (1988). The album's most popular single, "Fast Car," landed at No. 5 on the U.K. charts and No. 6 on the U.S. charts. Several years later, Chapman released New Beginning (1995), another widely acclaimed album, which was carried by the hit song "Give Me One Reason." Though her 1995 success has yet to be matched, Chapman stays busy as an activist, speaking and performing on behalf of various organizations.

Early Life

Tracy Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 30, 1964, and at a young age, she moved with her family to Connecticut. While attending Tufts University in Massachusetts, studying anthropology and African studies, Chapman began writing music and performing in Boston, and recorded songs at the local WMFO radio station.

Musical Career

Chapman caught her big break in 1986 when a friend's father introduced her to a manager at Elektra Records—with whom she recorded her first, self-titled album, which was released in 1988. Tracy Chapman rose to No. 1 in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and its popular single, "Fast Car," landed at No. 5 on the U.K. charts and No. 6 on the U.S. charts. That same year, Chapman performed at Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute Concert, which was held in Great Britain. The album's second single, "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution," also met with wide acclaim, and ranked competitively on Billboard's music charts.

Chapman received several honors following the release of Tracy Chapman, including three Grammy Awards in 1989—for best new artist, best female pop vocal performer and best contemporary folk album.

Though becoming a three-time Grammy winner is quite an accomplishment for any musician's first project, Chapman didn't waste any time before working on her next one. Between performing songs from her Grammy Award–winning album, she continued to write and make rounds back to the studio to record Crossroads (1989), which she also co-produced. Chapman dedicated one song on the album, "Freedom Now," to Mandela. Though the album didn't receive the same acclaim as her first, it did find a place on Billboard's 200, as well as other industry charts.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 2:  Musician Tracy Chapman poses during the 'Herb Ritts: L.A. Style' preview and reception to celebrate the opening of the exhibition held at the J. Paul Getty Museum on April 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/WireImage)
Tracy Chapman
Photo: Ryan Miller/WireImage

The singer-songwriter's musical success again slightly dipped in 1992, with the release of Matters of the Heart, an album that peaked at No. 53 on the Billboard 200 and failed to receive any real international fame. Matters of the Heart included less memorable songs than Chapman's previous projects, and fans were put off by her straying from folk and blues to a more upbeat, alternative-rock sound. It was likely difficult for Chapman to predict, at that time, what was to come three years later, upon the release of her fourth studio album.

As the album's title suggests, Chapman's New Beginning (1995) proved to be a step back into the limelight for the musician, selling nearly 5 million copies in the United States alone. The album far exceeded the appeal of Chapman's previous projects, thanks to the widely popular single "Give Me One Reason," as well as such catchy, soulful tunes as "Smoke and Ashes" and the album's title track, "New Beginning." Chapman received her fourth Grammy Award in 1997, for best rock song ("Give Me One Reason"), as well as several Grammy nominations and other music awards.

Chapman's 1995 success has yet to be matched. Since New Beginning's release, the musician has released a handful of albums, including Telling Stories (2000) and Our Bright Future (2008), and toured through 2009. In recent years, however, Chapman has largely stayed out of the spotlight.

Social Activist

Outside of her musical career, Chapman has long worked as an activist, speaking and performing on behalf of several nonprofit organizations, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Circle of Life (no longer active). During a 2003 event to benefit Circle of Life, Chapman performed a memorable duet with Bonnie Raitt, of the John Prine song "Angel From Montgomery."


  • Name: Tracy
  • Birth Year: 1964
  • Birth date: March 30, 1964
  • Birth State: Ohio
  • Birth City: Cleveland
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Female
  • Best Known For: American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman received wide fame in the late 1980s and 1990s with songs like "Give Me One Reason" and "Fast Car."
  • Industries
    • Rock
  • Astrological Sign: Aries

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  • Article Title: Tracy Chapman Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/musicians/tracy-chapman
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: September 20, 2019
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014