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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

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..
mlstax
While I did not agree with all is politics, I loved and still love his music. He was a true storyteller. An under appreciated soul who is dearly missed.
Continued! They were performing Cats in the Cradle on the Mike Douglas Show and there was a young 3 or 4 year old commercial actor listening with Mike. Suddenly the little boy started crying! Afterwards, when asked why he was crying, the boy said that he always feared losing his father! That's how well Harry communicated with his audience. I will never forget this gentle, gracious man!
I would see him at the Greek Theater in L.A. and also had tickets for 2 weeks after his death. When I was driving and heard on the radio about the accident, I burst into tears! I always stayed after concerts to get his autograph. One day he and his family were performing Cats in the Cradle on the old Mike Douglas Show
Saw Harry perform the homecoming concert at WFU in 1975. Did not realize that the Make A Wish host was his brother. Been a fan ever since!
danielkonikv i d e o
Harry Chapin was a family favorite. We saw him in 1975 at the Front Row Theatre near Cleveland. i was six years old and I will never forget it. To hell with the critics. Harry was great and I still love his music. RIP.
I saw Harry once when I was 15 with my mom as my date. She fell in love with his music and I became even more of a fan. I too had the opportunity to chat with him at the end of the concert. He just walked up to the back of the amphitheater (Merriweathe r Post in Columbia, MD) to sign books of his poetry, kiss the pretty girls and talk with fans. I had tickets for great seats for the concert that he was to give two weeks after July 16, 1981. I have never stopped loving his music. SJF
peggybfun
I'm so envious of all those who got to see Harry Chapin & Jim Croce.... always have been two of my favorites. Gimme that old 70's music and watch me smile... :)
I was truly blessed in that I was able to see Harry everytime he performed anywhere in Connecticut and southern Massachusett s - many, many, many times. You felt like you were sitting in a living room with he and the band! Each time I saw him, I was able to speak with him personally because he always did a meet and greet. The band was with him almost all those times - Big John Wallace is a gental giant. At the time of his tragic death, I had been correspondin g with he and his wife, Sandy, abou
I was lucky enough to see Harry in concert twice in Champaign. To say he was a great artist is shamefully understating his craft/gift to the music world and to those growing up in the 70's. His music will always been near and dear to my heart and soul. Bless this man who gave this world a wonderful, yet short span of his gift.
Please, since Pandora tries to offer music from so many different people or types of music, if you dont like that music then dont post anything. This is an open service, go open up your own version of Pandora.

Sad to say, I have/had never seen Harry Chapin in concert. That was my loss. There are many artists that I have not seen, and maybe never will.
That is again my loss.
I've always really liked this song but I've never had a real dad. My grandfather is like a dad to me.
Cats in the cradle is one of the most sad songs
Harry Chapin was a fully realized human being…someth i n g we can all strive for…I feel in love to his music!
plhbr
the cats in the kettle at the pee-king moon....
My brother sang this song w/ in a choir @ his Elementary School Graduation Ceremony so whenever I hear it I think of him( Ironically he's he's like the son in the song;-)
I love this song.
I love how the cats in the cradle actually has a story to tell, with a lesson. Much of today's crap doesnt...
Have enjoyed his music through the years and blow the dust of the guitar when I am alone and there's too much quiet.
I saw Harry in 1977 at Bryant College (University) in Smithfield, RI. His warm up act was Livingston Taylor (James' bro). Excellent night of music. A tragic loss...
mitchellrand y 1
Harry your stories are sweet music to me. Always been. I can relate on many fronts. It makes me stop and go into my reminisce mode. I will see and sing along with you again. Save me a seat ole friend. Signed 51yo ole timer Randy Mitchell Bristol Ct
The biggest mistake of my life was not seeing Harry before he was gone. Love the metaphors, Harry. Can't believe how you foretold your own demise in one of your songs! I look forward to singing with you in the next life, from another Old Folkie.
Sukimeister
Cats in the cradle makes me think about my beloved father....an d what is more beautiful than the love we always take for granted with our family anyways??? nothing on god freaking green Earth.NOTHIN G . A N D If You Think otherwise... Y O U R A DUMB STUPID PUNK.There IS NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN FAMILY.ABSOL U T E L Y NOTHING. WAKE UP CALL FOR REALITY.Noth i n g Is More Important Than My Father.
r2165
I saw Harry 5 times, first in the round that didn't go round, in Norwich CT-1976. I got a kiss from him while he was waiting for a ride home after a solo concert in New London at the Garde Theatre. We all sang Mail Order Annie while he sat on the end of the stage and played guitar and harmonica. Miss him more each time I hear Corey's Coming
Harry used to do concerts for benefits all the time. I met him when he came to Flint, Michigan when he did a concert to support the Flushing Youth Awareness Center that I volunteered at. Michael Moore was the director of that center. Both Harry & Michael were amazing people. Of course, now Michael is doing amazing directing!
Cats and the Cradle makes me stop and think about family/life in a very meaningful way..
I saw Harry live at the Hampton Beach Casino in Hampton Beach, NH the year before he was killed. He was simply....FA N T A S T I C . God Bless you Harry.
ohiotaxlaw
I had a unique college experience of putting on the concerts at Miami of ohio. I met Bruce, billy Joel, fleet wood Mac, bob hope, Crosby, nash, awb, BB king but Harry was the best as a celebrity, down to earth, played basketball with the students. Thank you for your timeless music!
Truth...savo r everything you have...it can all be gone...tomor r o w . . . B E the change you seek
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