What is Chapman University known for?

A man in prison, a young woman in the stadium and 600 million spectators

She only sings in cafes - or on the street

Tracy grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. In poor conditions. Cleveland is not a rich city. On the contrary. Similar to the German Ruhr area, the residents here have felt the decline of the steel industry for decades. Cleveland is famous for only a few things: the Cleveland Orchestra is considered one of the best in the world by culture-savvy circles. In sports circles, the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team is one of the best in the world. Half of the city's almost 400,000 inhabitants are black. It's the poorer half. Tracy grows up in this environment - and this environment is later very clearly reflected in her texts.

When she was just three years old, her mother gave her a ukulele. From the age of 8, she writes down her own lyrics and melodies. After school, she leaves Cleveland and goes to college in Boston. And there - on the campus - she sings her own songs. Time outdoors. Time in the "cappuccino café".

Record deal? This must be a joke!

A fellow student is very enthusiastic about Tracy's skills. He speaks to her several times. Tell her how great what she's doing. He has a tip - namely his own father, who works for a small record company. She should definitely send him a demo tape - maybe he could do something about it. But Tracy refuses. For two reasons. First of all, she doesn't want a record deal at all. She is content to sing in front of 20 to 50 people in a university café. On the other hand, she doesn't believe this young guy who is studying a year below her. Somehow she can't take his offer seriously. His name is Brian Koppelman. He doesn't give up a bit.

At the university's campus radio, he gets a recording that Chapman made there and sends it to his father. He can hardly contain himself, comes on the plane from Hollywood to Boston, pleads with Tracy not to waste her talent, but to preserve it in the form of an album - and he is successful! Tracy signs a record deal with Elektra Records at his request. But she insists that her music should sound the way her music sounds - and not like what was usual in 1987. In other words: As a singer / songwriter, she wants to record purely acoustic music - and not synth pop as it was otherwise common back then. Koppelman's father finds a producer who takes this very seriously.

Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman

Publication date:
April 5, 1988
Title List:
  1. Talkin 'Bout A Revolution
  2. Fast car
  3. Across The Lines
  4. Behind the wall
  5. Baby Can I Hold You
  6. Mountains O 'Things
  7. She's Got Her Ticket
  8. Why?
  9. For my lover
  10. If Not Now
  11. For you

Quartered in the "Hotel California"

The 24 year old Ohio woman is flown to Hollywood. She sleeps in the famous Chateau Marmont Hotel - this is what every music fan has in mind when he thinks of the cover of the Eagles album "Hotel California". - She doesn't exactly feel at home in all that luxury. But the work is progressing quickly. It will be their hoped-for acoustic album. Only she and seven other musicians are there.

The album is in the can within just 8 weeks. When it is released, success is instant. Critics are enthusiastic - and so is the audience. It sells almost a million times in just a few weeks. That in itself is incredible. But that's all nothing compared to what's to come!

Wembley, Mandela and the wide world

So Tracy Chapman is a newcomer whose reputation got around surprisingly quickly. She receives an invitation to a memorable concert - the "Free Nelson Mandela" concert at London's Wembley Stadium. Mandela - who has been in prison for a quarter of a century in 1987 - is celebrating his 70th birthday this year. The global anti-apartheid movement draws attention to the screaming injustice in South Africa - also with major music events. Chapman accepts the invitation - and in June 1987 thrilled 70,000 people with her voice, her guitar and her lyrics. - When Stevie Wonder had technical problems with his keyboard, she was allowed to go on stage a second time, which resulted in an unbelievable global success. No wonder, actually: It is said that 600 million people watch the Mandela concert on television.

Chapman's debut album sold 19 million more times worldwide after this concert! And to come back to these numbers for a moment: Interestingly, this album is one of the best-selling LPs in Germany as well. We cross the shop table 2.25 million times. That's more copies than Pink Floyd's "The Wall" or Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or "Bad" sold in this country. (Incidentally, first place: Herbert Grönemeyer with "Mensch" - 3.15 million copies).

And what does this success make - a success that cannot be repeated! - with Tracy Chapman? She remains modest and lives in seclusion in San Francisco. Every now and then she releases a little music - but hardly anything new. But human rights - like back then at the Mandela concert - are still important to her today. In the USA she is one of the most important voices when it comes to oppression of the black population ...

Tracy Chapman at the "Free Nelson Mandela" concert in 1988
(Source: Youtube)