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The Enigmatic One: Why many people want to hear Tracy Chapman now



Tracy Chapman – The Promise

Tracy Chapman 1988: No. 1 in the album charts in Germany, UK, USA. The young woman with the guitar wins. Then years of seclusion. Finally: a comeback. Or not? Now Chapman is 60 – and many would love to see her live again.

Los Angeles in February, the Grammy Awards, the audience cheers: Tracy Chapman is surprisingly on stage. The prizes will be won by others that evening, but the hearts will be won by this musician who has been forgotten for so long – and now, just in time for her 60th birthday on March 30th, she sings her old hit with country star Luke Combs: “Fast Car”, the story of a woman who dreams of a better life, beyond poverty and her alcoholic father.

Even before the performance begins, the audience is cheering; Chapman, dressed simply in black and coming on stage with a guitar, is beaming from ear to ear. Her dreadlocks have turned gray. Superstar Taylor Swift was only born in 1989, but she enthusiastically sang along to Chapman’s 1988 song in the audience.

Review: Chapman’s legendary performance in 1988

Pop connoisseurs are reminded of the legendary concert for the 70th birthday of the then still imprisoned Nelson Mandela: In 1988, the only 24-year-old Tracy Chapman performed only with her acoustic guitar in London’s huge Wembley Stadium. When Stevie Wonder has to stop his performance due to technical problems, the organizers send Chapman back on stage. “So my songs like ‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’ or ‘Fast Car’ probably stayed in the fans’ minds,” the artist later remembers.

Pop expert Gregor Wechselbach from the Folkwang University Bochum also explains Chapman’s groundbreaking success with the tension of contrasts: At the end of the 1980s, music was produced very elaborately, and the musicians presented themselves with huge bands. “During that time, Chapman was someone who performed in a big stadium in front of a huge audience and said, ‘I have a good song and a guitar – and that’s enough,’” says Wechselbach.

For Chapman, nothing is the same after the Wembley concert: “Of course I was happy that my music was so well received by people,” she says looking back. But she was also afraid because everything happened so quickly. “And I don’t care about fame,” she explains: “I don’t like being the center of attention – except when I’m singing my songs on stage.”


The musician made a significant contribution to the music of the 20th century with just one album, her debut album “Tracy Chapman” , says Wechselbach: “Chapman has a very strong voice, writes good lyrics and has guitar riffs that you learn straight away as a teenager want.” In her texts she creates big images with just a few words. She clearly belongs “in the ranks of the most important musicians of the last 50 years.”

Searching for clues: What has happened since then?

Chapman’s last album to date was released in 2008. In the years that followed, she gave interviews here and there and attended a festival – we don’t find out what she actually does all day. In 2020 she can be seen on US television, Chapman plays her other big hit “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” and calls on citizens to vote in the presidential election. Then radio silence again – as I said: “Being in public and in the spotlight – that was and still is unpleasant for me,” said Chapman. “I am a little shy.”

So little is known about the musician’s life – as well as her plans. Is she going on tour again? Is there a new album? We can’t even speculate, only hope. Millions of fans would be thrilled, especially after the Grammy show.

With information from dpa and epd

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