HARRY CHAPIN Biography - Musicians


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Name: Harry Chapin                                                                       
Born: 7 December 1942 in Greenwich Village, New York City U.S.                           
Died: 16 July 1981 New York, U.S.                                                         
Harry Forster Chapin (December 7, 1942 - July 16, 1981) was an American singer,           
songwriter, and humanitarian. He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker,     
and directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary           
Academy Award. In 1971, he decided to focus on music. With Big John Wallace, Tim         
Scott and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various local nightclubs in New           
York City.                                                                               
Chapin was born in Huntington, New York. He was the second of four children born         
to Jim and Elspeth Chapin. His parents divorced by 1950, with Elspeth keeping             
custody of their four sons, as Jim spent much of his life on the road as a               
drummer for Big Band era acts such as Woody Herman. She married National Films           
in Review magazine editor Henry Hart a few years later.                                   
Chapin's first formal introduction to music was while singing in the Brooklyn             
Boys Choir. It was here that Harry met Big John Wallace, a tenor with a five-octave       
range, who would later become his bass player and background singer. He began             
performing with his brothers while a teenager, with their father occasionally             
joining them on drums.                                                                   
Chapin graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1960, and was among the           
five inductees in the school's Alumni Hall Of Fame for the year 2000. He briefly         
attended the United States Air Force Academy and was then an intermittent                 
student at Cornell University. He did not complete a degree.                             
Chapin met Sandy Gaston in 1966, after she called him asking for music lessons.           
They married two years later.                                                             
Following an unsuccessful early album made with his brothers, Tom and Steve,             
Chapin's debut album was Heads and Tales (1972, #60), which was a success thanks         
to the single "Taxi" (#24). However, Chapin's recording future became somewhat           
of a controversy between two powerful record companies headed by two very                 
powerful men, Jac Holzman of Elektra Records and Clive Davis of Columbia.                 
According to Chapin's biography Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story by Peter M. Coan,           
Chapin had agreed in principle to sign with Elektra Records on the grounds that           
a smaller record label would give greater personal attention to his work. Clive           
Davis, however, remained undaunted, doubling almost every cash advance offer             
Chapin received from Holzman. Despite a cordial relationship with Holzman, Davis         
had a long history of besting Holzman over the years to particular artists, but           
this was one time that he did not prevail.                                               
Chapin ultimately signed with Elektra for a smaller advance, but with provisions         
that made it worth the move. The biggest stipulation in the nine-album deal was           
that he receive free studio time, meaning he paid no recording costs. It was a           
move that would ultimately save Chapin hundreds of thousands of dollars over the         
term of his contract and set a precedent for other musicians.                             
"This was completely unheard of," said Davis in the Coan book. "There was no             
such thing as free studio time."                                                         
Chapin's follow-up album, Sniper and Other Love Songs (1972, #160), was less             
successful despite containing the Chapin anthem "Circle" (a big European hit for         
The New Seekers). His third album, Short Stories (1974, #61), was a major                 
success. Verities & Balderdash (1974, #4), released soon after, was even more             
successful, bolstered by the chart-topping hit single "Cat's in the Cradle",             
based upon a poem by his wife. Sandy Chapin had written the song inspired by her         
first husband's relationship with his father, and a country song she heard on             
the radio[citation needed], though it is a common mistake that it was based on           
Harry's relations with his children. "Cat's in the Cradle" was Chapin's only             
number one hit, shooting album sales skyward and making him a millionaire.               
He also wrote and performed a Broadway musical The Night That Made America               
Famous. Additionally, Chapin wrote the music and lyrics for Cotton Patch Gospel,         
a musical by Tom Key based on Clarence Jordan's book The Cotton Patch Version of         
Matthew and John. The original cast soundtrack was produced by Tom Chapin, and           
released in 1982 by Chapin Productions.                                                   
Chapin's only UK hit was "W*O*L*D", which reached #34 in 1974. His popularity in         
the UK owed much to the championing of BBC disc jockey Noel Edmonds. The song's           
success in the U.S. was mostly the result of disc jockeys playing it for                 
themselves (the song dealt with a much traveled D.J. and his difficulty with             
Chapin's recording of "The Shortest Story", a song he wrote about a dying child           
and featured in his 1976 live/studio album Greatest Stories Live, was named by           
author Tom Reynolds in his book I Hate Myself and Want to Die as the second most         
depressing song of all time (just behind "The Christmas Shoes").                         
By the end of the decade, Chapin's contract with Elektra (which had since merged         
with Asylum Records under the control of David Geffen) had expired, and the               
company made no offer to renew it. A minor deal with Casablanca fell through,             
and Chapin settled on a simple one-album deal with Boardwalk Records. The                 
Boardwalk album, though no one knew it at the time, would be his final work.             
The title track of his last album, Sequel, was a follow up to his earlier song "Taxi",   
reuniting the same characters ten years later. The songs Chapin was working on           
at the time of his death were subsequently released as the thematic album The             
Last Protest Singer.