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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

Tells a story in ever song
I never get tired of hearing this.
Harry Chapin must be remembered as one of America's greatest story tellers. More than ballads his songs are novellas. Packed with emotion, triumph and pain both personal and universal. I sing along with so many of his songs
Goosebumps. ..
1978, at Naples Italy, I was a Corpsman who just Medivaced a shipmate to the hospital. Had to kill a day waiting for a flight back to my ship. Harry Chapin in USO Concert! bought my ticket and a cooler of beer and had a great time. Remembering how proud that a fellow Long Islander was up there. Zip ahead to 1981,I was sent with a Marine Amphibous Assualt unit ending up off the coast of Lebenon. Rushing to get home in time for the birth of my Second Boy. Happy Day when I made it only to find out
I had the honor of seeing Harry perform at King's College in Wilkes-Barre PA. April 1977. The tickets were a gift from my brother (I always thought it was because I did not get asked to the freshman cotillion, which was held the same evening). I will never forget when the band did Taxi. My big brother cried as hard as I did. I was at work the evening he died and my employees couldn't understand why I was so upset...RIP Harry. Thank you for the beautiful memories.
Cat's in the Cradle should make one think about Everything!
Only one song in the world makes me, a 58 YO man, cry.... Cat's In The Cradle. Nails relationship s to a Tee.
jetman17us
Cat's In The Cradle is such a great song.
He did so much in the way of charitable contribution s through his music and personal appearances.
Shame on the critic BOOBS. Critics are basically losers that failed to attain their dreams.
I loved Chapin's music stories. They didn't get much radio play because if the length. However, you knew what quality music you would get in purchasing the album in the store. I liked the long story lines and the not so long.
My favorite music is the kind you can hear and understand all the lyrics. You always
The day Harry Chapin died we were driving home from a family vacation in Vermont. My mom cried and cried while the radio played tributes. His songs make me extra sad because of the memory. Great stuff tho!
Such a true song too much to do not enough time
I was coaching a Little League baseball time and was on my way to a ball game when I heard the tragic news. My 11- and 12-year-old players couldn't understand why I was so upset at that night's game. R.I.P. Harry
nwwilliams22
Kiss your hand
Say your crushes name
Say your name
Pick a day
Post this on 15 songs
That day your crush will ask you out
I agree w/Bkaye615.
annamazing99
Balderdash.. . :3
survivor45ae r
this song absolutely breaks my heart, always makes me look back at how things were between me and my son, how much of the song was us. but that said, I do love the song and I am so sad that Harry died in the middle of an amazing life.
please add Greatest Stories Live - best versions of bananas, circle, and so many others.
I remember waiting for Harry at the band shell at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County, New York on that fateful day in 1981 where he was to put on a free concert. Everyone had picnic blankets and was so excited to see him. The joy turned to disbelief, then to tears. Its one of those days you never forget. He lives on in my commitment to the moral of Cats in the Cradle.
mwculleton
He set the standard.
Classic
I passed the accident that took his life ,tragic and not the way it's told on here but he was great !
This song is so true make time for your love ones RIP dad
Love you dad miss you R I P
Song of our times.
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!
What a great Man saw him 6 times even got to meet him in person IT's sad he was taken from way to soon
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!
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