Tracy Chapman is the only Black artist to have a solo writing credit on a No. 1 country song with “Fast Car,” initially released in 1988. So where is Tracy Chapman now?
American folk singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman has made headlines as the only Black woman to have a solo writing credit on a No. 1 country song at the 2023 CMAs on November 8. Her 1988 hit, “Fast Car,” gained renewed popularity this year after country singer Luke Combs’ cover of the song went viral.
Her debut album was an instant hit in the late ‘80s, propelling her into global fame in the early ‘90s. But things have been seemingly quiet for Chapman over the last 30-plus years until Luke Combs introduced a new generation to her songwriting. So where is Tracy Chapman now?
A private person by nature, Tracy Chapman doesn’t share much about her personal life. “Fast Car” became a Billboard Hot 100 hit in August 1988 and won a Grammy the following year. Chapman has won four Grammy awards altogether, including Best New Artist in 1989. Rolling Stone included “Fast Car” on their 2010 list of The Greatest Songs of All Time.
A song about dreaming of running away, “Fast Car” speaks to a lot of fans across generations, but Chapman’s own struggles made her the perfect writer for such a poignant track. Born in Cleveland, OH, in 1964, Chapman grew up during a time of high racial tensions, and she endured racial abuse often.
“The city had been forced to integrate the schools, so they were bussing Black children into white neighborhoods, and white children into Black neighborhoods, and people were upset about it, so there were race riots,” said Chapman in a 2008 interview with The Guardian.
Chapman said she “always loved school,” and saw education as her way out of Cleveland and “out of poverty.” She won a scholarship to a private boarding school in Connecticut at age 16 and attended Tufts University after graduation, studying anthropology with an emphasis on West African cultures.
Her mother had bought her a ukulele when she was three, and she began playing guitar and writing songs at age 8. After she finished school, Chapman signed a contract with Elektra Records and released her self-titled debut album, which sold 6 million copies in the US. Four of her eight studio albums are RIAA-certified platinum, while two are gold.
A political and social activist, Chapman has performed at numerous concerts for human rights campaigns, including the AIDS epidemic and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to do my work and be involved in certain organizations, certain endeavors, and offered some assistance in some way,” said Chapman in 2002.
She has received honorary doctorates for her social activism from Saint Xavier University and her alma mater, Tufts University. In April 2023, the South African president provided Chapman with a National Order “for her contribution to the fight for freedom by participating in efforts to free Nelson Mandela and raising awareness of human rights violations globally.”
Tracy Chapman won Song of the Year for “Fast Car” on November 8 at the CMA Awards, 35 years after the song’s original release. Though she did not attend the ceremony, Chapman provided a statement read onstage by presenter Sara Evans.
“It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut,” her statement read. “Thank you to the CMAs and a special thanks to Luke and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.’”
Fan response to her CMA win has been varied, with some troubled that it was Luke Combs, and not Chapman, who launched the song into the modern zeitgeist. But Chapman has voiced her support of Combs’ cover.
“I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there,” Chapman told Billboard of her recent CMA win. “I’m happy for Luke and his success, and grateful that new fans and found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’”