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A Musician, Redefined

A Musician, RedefinedIn the fifteen years since Tracy Chapman released her Grammy-winning debut album, the Tufts graduate has redefined herself and her music.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.02.02] When Tracy Chapman enrolled at Tufts in 1982, she wanted to pursue her long-time interest in veterinary medicine. But, just as she has done throughout her career, Chapman redefined herself and her direction - graduating from Tufts with a degree in anthropology and a record deal. Now - with five albums and four Grammys under her belt - she is about to release her newest record, transforming herself once again.

"If the dominant mood of her early work was political, the overriding impression of [her newest album Let It Rain] is more spiritual," reported The London Guardian, which recently published an extensive interview with Chapman.

"[Throughout Let It Rain], tracks called Broken, Happy and Goodbye talk of 'searching for a new soul,' warning that 'not truth or transcendence will set you free' and a request to 'give me hope that help is coming when I need it most,'" reported the Guardian. "There is an introspective, almost hymnal quality to it all; it's the kind of music you might want to shake a tambourine at or clap along to, folk music that owes more to the traditions of Pentecost than protest."

The new album may come as a surprise to those who think of Chapman's music as primarily driven by political and social issues. But the artist says she hasn't strayed far from her earlier work.

"This record has lots of contemporary issues," she told the Guardian. "The first record is seen as being more social commentary... more political. But I think that's just all about perspective."

Certainly, in the time since she first attempted to break into the music business, Chapman's perspective has changed a great deal.

While at Tufts, the young singer-songwriter decided to hit the streets of Cambridge to find an audience for her then-unknown music.

"It's worse than playing in a club, because there are so many distractions," Chapman told the Guardian, describing the challenges of playing music to sidewalk crowds. "You can feel rejected if people don't stop, so you have to kind of insulate yourself."

Classmates and friends chipped in to help Chapman, sending her tapes to record labels.

Many - like CBS records - weren't interested. "The rejection letter advised her to tune her guitar before she sent another tape," reported the Guardian.

But another student's father - Charles Koppelman, the then-president of SBK music publishing - was interested.

"He in turn introduced her to David Kershenbaum, who produced her first album for Elektra, after other producers had turned her down," reported the newspaper.

The self-titled debut was an overnight smash, boosted by Chapman's appearance at a 1988 tribute concert for Nelson Mandela.

"The event was televised and Chapman was the star of the show," reported the Guardian. "Two days later, her album had sold 12,000 copies and topped the UK charts. She won best international newcomer at that year's Brit Awards and three Grammys (best vocal pop performance, best contemporary folk recording and best new artist."

In the years that followed, the Tufts graduate released several more albums - winning another Grammy for the single Give Me One Reason from 1995's New Beginning.

Along the way, her reputation as an outstanding singer-songwriter grew, while some say her music mellowed.

She was recently listed among VH1's "Greatest Women In Music History," and was the only woman included in a poll of 440 of the greatest guitar players in the world.

"I realize that, aside from waking up every morning and eating and getting dressed, one of the things that I have done most consistently for my whole life is to write songs and play guitar and make music," Chapman told the Guardian. "Right now, it's my vocation and it's my passion."

It has also been Chapman's vehicle for lending her voice in support of the causes she believes in.

"I'm fortunate that I've been able to do my work and be involved in certain organizations, certain endeavors, and offered some assistance in some way," she told the Guardian. "Whether that is about raising money, helping to raise awareness [or] just being another body to show some force and conviction for a particular idea. Finding out where the need is - and if someone thinks you're going to be helpful - then helping."

It's an approach to life that everyone - not just artists - should take, says the Tufts graduate.

"That's what everyone should do with their lives - stand up for what they believe in, or try to do some good in the world," she told the Guardian. "I don't think artists have a greater responsibility than anyone else."


Photos courtesy of Michael Lavine and Jason Squires.

 

 

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