tracy chapman was born and raised in a working-class neighborhood of cleavland, ohio. she lived with her mother until a scholarship to a private school took her to connecticut. drawn to the guitar at an early age, chapman learned how to play and was writing her own songs by the time she reached adolescence. she continued her education at tufts university, in massachusetts, studying anthropology and african studies. evenutally, chapman began to perform in area cafés and nightclubs. using the university radio station as her recording studio, chapman recorded a demo tape which eventually made it's way from the hands of her friend, brian koppelman, to those of his father, charles koppelman, of sbk records. in 1986, tracy chapman signed a contract with sbk records and set about completing the songs that would introduce her to the world at large. by 1987, she had a recording contract with elektra records.
in 1988, almost as if in unintentional contrast to her public persona, tracy chapman exploded onto the music scene with "fast car", the first single from her eponymous debut. as much as her immediate success belied her reclusive demeanor so, too, did her folk-inspired instrumentation and masterful word-smithing stand in stark contrast to the work of contemporaries such as paula abdul, exposé and tracie spencer. a public hungry for reality in music immediately responded to chapman's work, pushing the album to achieve multi-platinum status and inspiring covers by artists such as reggae diva foxy brown, brazilian diva joyce and r&b diva andrea martin.
as one might expect, subsequent albums by chapman suffered from much greater scrutiny than her debut, resulting in diminished sales. though 1989's crossroads and 1992's matters of the heart were every bit as well-crafted and thought-provoking as tracy chapman they did not succeed in securing the same degree of cross-over interest. chapman, however, was unswayed by the lack of public interest. "i don't think about creating hits," she explained in a 1999 billboard interview, "as an artist, you must remain true to your artistic development and not consider any commercial potential." commercial potential, however, is one thing about which tracy chapman need not be concerned. although crossroads and matters of the heart did not enjoy the commercial success of tracy chapman, that is not to say that she had not established a considerable audience of devoted fans. furthermore, her work continued to break down barriers and open doors for the future participants of the lilith fair; divas such as me'shell ndegéocello, sheryl crow and tori amos benefitted, and continue to benefit from, tracy chapman's no-nonsense approach to music.
after a three-year hiatus, chapman returned, in 1995, with new beginning, a prophetically-titled album that put chapman back on the charts with its debut single, "give me one reason". by the beginning of 1996, the album's slow burn had earned it top ten status in the u.s., putting chapman back in the public's view. of her approach to making new beginning, chapman had this to say, "i had the idea of making this record in a much different manner than i had in the past. i wanted to stay close to home and use musicians from the bay area. i wanted to put together a band that would be my recording band, as well as my touring band. i felt that his approach would give me the space i needed to grow musically, a comfortable seeting to develop arrangements for the songs and a working relationship with the musicians. on 15 february 2000, chapman released her fifth studio album, telling stories, and elektra recordsher recording home of more than a decadewas confident it would prove itself to be another hit for the singer.
tracy chapman is truly a phenomenon. a true voice of social conscience born of a time when political correctness was no more effective than the catch phrases and benefit concerts it produced. she almost single-handedly heralded the return of the singer/songwriter as a viable and, in fact, vital member of the recording industry. moreover, chapman has served as an example, for the past decade, of true musical integrity, the calibre of which has not been witnessed since artists such as joan baez and emmylou harris. though armed with only a guitar, her voice and a desire to express an honest message, tracy chapman proves herself, with every album more, to possess the qualities of a true diva.