What has a Star Trek Next Generation novel got to do with me writing a celebration of Harry Chapin’s life? Well, there is a connection but I’ll tell you later. For now, I want to talk about the man himself, Harry Chapin, a folk singer born in Brooklyn, New York in 1942. He started out wanting to be a documentary maker and for a while, he did just that. He was even nominated for an Academy Award for directing a boxing documentary called ‘Legendary Champions‘ in 1965.
He soon turned his attention to music, at first teaming up to play and sing with his brothers and dad and then performing on the nightclub circuit. He was discovered by Elecktra Records, where he won the first multi million dollar recording contract in a bidding war between major producers.
His first album, ‘Heads and Tails’ was a world world success. He followed this up with 10 more studio albums over the years and released 14 singles. His best known songs are probably ‘Taxi‘, his first single, and ‘Cat’s In The Cradle,’ a story about a father not having enough time for his son. The son grows up, becomes a father and makes the same mistake. Harry, by this time, was married with two children and three stepchildren. Harry’s wife wrote the lyrics as a warning to him. His father hadn’t been around much and now it looked like he would repeat history. Harry put a melody to the words and that’s how the song came about.
By the end of the seventies, Chapin was one of the highest paid musicians, and yet, he was never very popular with music critics. They didn’t like his music and they didn’t like the unconventional way he put a song together, perhaps it wasn’t the standard accepted way, whatever that is.
His social activism began in the mid seventies.
‘He saw poverty and hunger as an insult to America’Harry’s daughter, Jen
He co-founded the organisation World Hunger Year, now WhyHunger. More than half of his concerts were benefits. He donated a third of his paid concerts to charity too. He often performed alone, just with a guitar to keep costs down. His widow, Sandy says, ‘He was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, 7 foundations and 82 charities.’
On the way to perform at a free concert, aged just 38, he was involved in a car crash, which resulted in his death. He was post humously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his tireless involvement in social issues, particularly the issue of hunger, world wide and in America. He is recognised as a key member of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger. He was the inspiration for USA For Africa and Hands Across America.
A Hungerthon was held to benefit Harry’s World Hunger League, highlighting the severity of hunger in America, in New York City and in the tri state area. After his death, the Hungerthon continued. At the the Live Aid concert, held in Philadelphia, in 1985, Kenny Loggins was presented with the first ‘Harry Chapin Award’ for his work in fighting hunger in America.
The Harry Chapin Foundation continues with his widow as chairperson.
And now, Star Trek, where’s the connection and do you really care, probably not, but I find it strange how seemingly unconnected things come together in delightful ways. If it wasn’t for the Star Trek Next Generation novel ‘Power Hungry’ which is about emergency famine relief, needed for the planet Thiopa, I wouldn’t even know who Harry Chapin is, let alone be writing about him. Ignorance isn’t always bliss. The writer, Howard Weinstein had dedicated the forward/introduction to Harry Chapin. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know of him before that but after reading about his life, I felt compelled to celebrate it.