Women’s History Month: On Her Way with “Fast Car”

Tracy Chapman “Tracy Chapman” Album Cover (Elektra Records, Warner Music Group)

When Tracy Chapman wrote “Fast Car,” she didn’t know who its story was about. Later, she said she thought it was about her parents. They met when they were very young, got married and went out into the world to try to make a place for themselves, and it was very difficult.

After Tracy performed “Fast Car” in 1988 at the televised Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert it began to rise on the U.S. charts, and became the highest-ranking song written and performed by a female singer-songwriter. In 1989 Tracy won Best Female Pop Vocal performance for “Fast Car.” That year she won two more Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Folk Recording. In 1997 she won a Grammy for Best Rock Song for another of her popular songs, “Give Me One Reason.”

Born March 30, 1964 in Cleveland, OH, Tracy was raised by a mother who recognized her love of music. Even though her family didn’t have much money, Tracy’s mother bought her a ukulele (a small four-stringed guitar of Hawaiian origin) when she was three. Tracy began playing guitar and writing songs when she was eight.

“My older sister encouraged me from early on and bought me one of the first guitars I had,” said Tracy. “She listened to all of the crappy songs that I wrote when I was eight years old and encouraged me to keep doing it.”

Following high school Tracy won a minority placement scholarship and attended Tufts University. She started playing in coffeehouses in Cambridge, MA. Brian Koppelman, another Tufts student, saw Tracy perform and told his father, Charles Koppelman, about her. He ran SBK Publishing and signed Tracy in 1986. When Tracy graduated from Tufts in 1987 he helped her got a contract with Elektra Records. In 1988 she released “Tracy Chapman” with “Fast Car,” and she was on her way.

“Song writing is a very mysterious process,” said Tracy. “It feels like creating something from nothing. It’s something I don’t feel like I really control. I end up writing about all kinds of things.”

Berklee City Music pays tribute to Tracy and her music!

Visit Tracy Chapman’s website: www.tracychapman.com

Check out Tracy Chapman on our “Women in Music” playlist.

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