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Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin's career as a popular singer/songwriter was cut short by an auto accident in 1981, yet he left behind a series of recordings that his fans continue to treasure decades after his death. Chapin was never a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter. Critics accused him of over-sentimentalizing his subjects and attaching heavy-handed morals to his socially aware story-songs; the heavily orchestrated arrangements that accompanied many of his songs didn't help his case with the critics, either. Nevertheless, Chapin earned a devoted audience during the '70s, through his music and his charity work as a social activist.

Chapin began performing while he was in high school, singing in the Brooklyn Heights Boys' Choir and forming a band with his brothers Tom and Stephen. During college, he decided to pursue a career as a documentary filmmaker; in 1968, he directed the Oscar-nominated Legendary Champions. In 1971, he switched his career, concentrating on music. Chapin recruited a backing band through an ad in the Village Voice; the respondents included bassist John Wallace, guitarist Ron Palmer, and cellist Tim Scott. The group began performing in various clubs around New York and the singer/songwriter was soon signed to Elektra Records.

Heads and Tails, Chapin's first album, was released in the summer of 1972 and became a success thanks to the hit single "Taxi," which soon became the songwriter's signature tune. Later that year, he released his second album, Sniper and Other Love Songs, which didn't fare quite as well as his debut. Short Stories, Chapin's third album, appeared in the spring of 1973; it spent 23 weeks on the chart due to the success of the single "W.O.L.D.," a story about the life of a disc jockey. After recording his fourth album, Verities and Balderdash, Chapin disbanded his backing band and began work on his musical The Night That Made America Famous; both Wallace and cellist Michael Masters worked on the show, along with guitarist Doug Walker, drummer Howie Fields, and Chapin's brothers Tom, Steve, and Jim. While he was working on the musical, Verities and Balderdash became his biggest hit, peaking at number four on the U.S. charts and becoming a gold record. The album's success was benefited by the number-one single "Cat's in the Cradle," a song about an inconsiderate, career-oriented father that was based on a poem written by Chapin's wife.

The Night That Made America Famous opened on February 26, 1975. It closed on April 6, after 75 performances; the show would earn two Tony nominations. Chapin won an Emmy award that spring for his contributions to ABC television's children's series Make a Wish, which was hosted by his brother Tom. That spring, the singer/songwriter co-founded World Hunger Year, a charity designed to raise money to fight international famine; the organization earned over $350,000 in its first year. In the fall of 1975, Chapin delivered Portrait Gallery, his follow-up to Verities and Balderdash. While the album performed respectably, peaking at number 53, it failed to recapture the mass audience of his previous album.

Greatest Stories -- Live, a double album released in the spring of 1976, became the singer/songwriter's second gold album, peaking at number 48. Chapin was becoming more politically active throughout 1976, as evidenced by his role as a delegate at that summer's Democratic Convention. Late in 1976, he released On the Road to Kingdom Come, which spent a mere six weeks on the charts. The 1977 double-album Dance Band on the Titanic was on the charts for a few more weeks, yet it didn't spawn a hit single. The following year, Chapin met with President Jimmy Carter, discussing the need for a Presidential Commission on Hunger; he also released Living Room Suite that summer, which peaked at number 133.

Chapin released a second live album, Legends of the Lost and Found -- New Greatest Stories Live, in the fall of 1979; it was his least-successful album, spending only three weeks on the charts. In 1980, he signed with Boardwalk Records, releasing Sequel that fall; the title track of the album was a sequel to his first hit single, "Taxi," and became his last Top 40 hit.

On July 16, 1981, Chapin was driving to a business meeting on the Long Island Expressway near Jericho, NY, when his car was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. The accident caused his gas tank to explode, killing the singer/songwriter in the process. A memorial fund was established in his name following his death, with Elektra Records providing the initial donation of 10,000 dollars. Over the years, the fund has raised an estimated $5 million, which has gone to a variety of social causes that were close to Chapin's heart. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Comments

I guess people like Harry Chapin are why we say that only the good die young. His music is so timeless that even my 9-year-old brother loves it.
farashna
Absolutely love Harry Chapin's music and message. A Better Place to be is incredible, but my absolute favorite is Flowers are Red. What an amazing message there. It was such a heart-wrench i n g loss to the music world when he slipped away.
Beautiful!
Seriously, I listen to the song Taxi almost everyday. I had the pleasure of seeing Harry twice in concert. I am now 64 and I still get strong emotions from listening to his music. Really miss this truly talented man. Feel like he is talking to me personally through each song. Never be another like him.
Cdlane93, I couldn't agree with you more. Cried reading all he did, & his bio. Thanks for thinking out loud. Life is hard enough, it's great to see people that try to ease the suffering for others any way they can. God bless. Peace. Luv. Happiness. Always.
There is a lot of wisdom in this song!
We need someone today that was as passionate about world hunger as Harry Chapin. I miss that we can only hear him on recordings and not live.
Wold is moving
Genet43 - I'm so glad you found the strength to make it through such a tough time !
Cat's in the Cradle is deep. So deep.
In the depths of dark emotions during a sad divorce, Harry's A Better Place to Be got me through the most suicidal point in my life. From a fan in the cheap seats, thanx Harry.
He changed my life, and gave my family new hope. My Dad who was a D.O.C. preacher would begin his sermons with scripture and a quote from Harry.
While a reporter for a student newspaper at Rutgers, I covered his concert at McCarter Theater at Princeton... . . m u s t have been 1976 or 1977. Press pass gave me backstage access, and after the show, a group of us sat and talked with Harry while he ate a submarine sandwich and talked about music, politics and giving people what they need to survive. I echo the sentiments voiced here....he was an artist who tried to relay thoughtful messages or moral codes in their songs....lik e a Pete Seeger or
roxanne916
RIP Harry, on your Angel day.....33 years ago today, you were taken away too soon.
Love his musuc
dennis7575
Got to meet him twice, nicest performer I ever met. While he was talking to you, you were the center of his world. I remember the night I heard he died. I was on the air at a little radio station in Eastern Kentucky, and couldn't finish my show that night. One of those people who shoud still be around making music and telling the stories that had meaning.
So do I, Ed. I was on the L.I. Expressway about a mile from the accident when it happened. My best memory of Harry was his appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson gushing in his praise for Harry and Taxi, just performed, which Johnny RARELY did. Yes, I miss Johnny, too. Jericho and Westbury are adjacent. I remember thinking I'm glad I'm getting off here; it looks nasty up ahead. That traffic jam was because Harry was with the angels. DrBHappy Westbury, NY
edmeyerwpb
I think he was the first concert I ever went to in Central park with my first girl friend Susan. Many years later I met his brother Tom and said , I miss Harry His response..So do I.
He was a great man that cared for humanity, besides being a great singer and writer. Wish I could seen his show. We all miss you
. RNP
I'll never forget Valpo U. got to see him live great show. Also saw him in Park Forest IL. Rich East High school I have pic of that night
The accident was his destiny, so sad so early and how many songs he had left to sing
I was in Jefferson Community College at Harry's concert, wouldn't trade the memories for anything.
lavelle391
I had that room on College Ave. As if it were today, miss ya Harry
He was an amazing story teller who left us too soon...miss Harry!
outstanding!
mk_dodd
I always loved this song. At the age of 56 I'm working with attorneys. Made a remark to a young attorney when he was complaining about missing half-day's work because his 18 month old son was ill - cats in the cradle and the silver spoon. Of course he didn't get it right away, but looked it up (his paralegal is 36 and made the mistake of attributing the son to Cat Stevens LOL). Needless to say it upset the young attorney a bit, but he no longer complains when he misses work for his son.
His music never grows old...
almost as good as bob Dylan
omg he died
damn good but sad
My grandpa had him working for him in a restraunt
Cannot listen without feeling the tears well up. I'm gonna go hug my girl now.
The Dick Panthers are better.
I have been listening to harry since I was a kid, I don't really care much for the radio these days but I love listening to these classics on my computer
Harry was a remarkable performer who could touch his listeners in places they did not know they had. He has always been my favorite artist and all of his songs deserve a listen. He was not a great musician nor vocalist but he touched the fabric of one's soul and gave away half of his proceeds to charity. the world hunger work he did was legendary. He had so much more to give but he was taken away and it changed my belief in God. You had to experience Harry in concert to have his essence
My name is Harry
ritajo125
He's been gone33 years. It's amazing how his songs are timeless as is our memories of him and his work. Haven't seen a storyteller like this ever again...his stuff still gives me chills! Rock on Harry!
The last time we saw Harry was at the Valley Forge Music Fair in late 1980 or so and we sat right behind the pit. Harry kept breaking strings that night, and I came home with a couple of his broken strings. Ahhhh memories.
Amen, Pamela; Harry Chapin also changed my life. His stories resonated with me and I went to every concert he had in the Philadelphia area. To say that he was a fabulous performer is an understateme n t in my opinion. His stories invited the listeners in to feel the emotions he so eloquently intertwined in his music. I was saddened to learn of his death in 1981, however, I am certain he is in heaven and glad that his legacy survives through his foundation. A true humanitarian . Pace e bene, Harry
Harry changed my life and that of my family in the late 70's by challenging me to face my defiance and accept my parents love. Thank you Harry. A tangled up puppet is and was an amazing life changer.
@emptystring . . . y e s , there is much more to the story than what is written here. It makes it seem as if the truck driver was totally at fault. Harry was having a heart attack that caused him to slow well below the speed of traffic. What's here could also give the mistaken idea that he was burned to death in the car. The truck driver and another driver pulled him from the burning car. it wasn't known if he had the heart attack before or after the accident but that's what killed him.
I was at Cornell in the late 70s, where Harry also attended, and my next door neighbor was the concert organizer. She offered me free tickets to any band playing on campus that year, and if my memory served me correctly, included the Dead, Springsteen and Harry. I chose Harry and it was the best decision I ever made. The following year, after he died, a Harry Chapin memorial concert was held on campus with Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger and the Chapin brothers! Awesome.
Harry didn't die on the way to a business meeting, he was on his way to give a free concert at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow NY Pandora always has these bios with poorly researched facts
dickpangallo
Cat's in the Cradle is one of those songs that I can actually feel the emotions of the singer and writer. I loved it then, and I love it today as I have Grown up just like him.... Songs have impacts in different ways and HC knew how to reach into the depths of emotions and relay that. Just think of how many people are impacted by Cat's and have taken steps to be a little closer to those who really matter... Thanks Harry (and your wife for the poem that led to this, my life is a little better)
Why do the best die young? At most he was recorded!! A GREAT!
itzbutch
I had the incredible honor of singing backup for Harry at a concert he put on while vacationing with his family in Europe in 1977. He did a show for military (Navy and Air Force) stationed in Italy at a place called Carney Park (military recreation area). They pulled a 18 wheeler flat bed out onto the end zone of the football field and he came out with nothing but his guitar and 2 mikes and a chair. He did over 2 hours and really got the crowd involved! The very best story teller ever.
I always liked this song....!
mikeqmikeq
I saw Harry Chapin perform solo at Northwestern University in the Fall of 1978 during student orientation. A beautiful big stage with just a chair, guitar and Harry. It was magical. I've been a fan ever since.
jjt2nd
Harry Chapin died long before I could appreciate his music as an adult. With even country going to canned garbage these days, his music is a refreshing reminder of when it didn't matter what you looked like as long as you made good music.
As I hung up the phone it occurred to me...Don't know why I love that line..

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