Tracy Chapman lives a quiet life in San Francisco out of the spotlight

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I have watched Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs’ Grammy duet no fewer than 20 times. I just love it so much and wish they’d release it as a single so I can buy it to add to a playlist or two. I have a very distinct memory of watching Chapman perform this song live when I was a kid and it made me a lifelong fan. If you’ve never listened to her self-titled debut album, you should. It’s a stunning work of art that’s just as relevant now as it was then. Plus, her voice is just absolutely gorgeous.

There’s been a lot of renewed interest in Tracy since the Grammys, including a lot of social media coverage about her incredible rise to fame, which includes crossing paths with Billions co-creator Brian Koppelman while they were both college students at Tuft University. Koppelman’s dad was the co-owner of indie label SBK Publishing and after several months of convincing, he signed Chapman to the label. In 1988, Tracy Chapman was released with Fast Car as the first single. But the world really discovered Tracy’s talent after a very Universe-y moment that June, when she did a last-minute substitution for Stevie Wonder at the Mandela Concert at Wembley Stadium. Since then, the singer has released eight studio albums, most recently in 2008. Her last public appearance was to sing the very first track off of her first album, the quietly powerful, Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution, on Late Night with Seth Meyers in November 2020. So what has Tracy been up to since she largely withdrew from the spotlight? She’s been living her best life in San Francisco.

She’s “a bit shy”: “Being in the public eye and under the glare of the spotlight was, and it still is, to some extent, uncomfortable for me,” she told The Irish Times in 2015. “There are some ways by which everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for this career. But I am a bit shy.”

What she’s been up to professionally: She performed at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012, playing with the blues guitarist Buddy Guy, who was one of the honorees that year. She turned up at David Letterman’s final shows in 2015, doing “Stand by Me.” And on the eve of the presidential election in 2020, she appeared on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” performing “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” from her debut album; after the last notes, she moved aside to reveal a sign behind her saying “vote.”

Her quiet life in San Francisco: Chapman is so private that many San Franciscans were surprised to learn after the Grammys that she lives in their city. She’s not part of the socialite scene or involved in politics, and she seems to mostly avoid major events. But she can still be seen around town. The owner of a bookstore where she sometimes shops posted on X after her Grammys performance that she was “so down to earth in real life” when spotted buying food for her dog at a local pet store. (The post was later deleted.) Others have observed her standing in line at a popular bakery. Before the pandemic, she served as a judge for a high school scholarship program run by the founders of “Beach Blanket Babylon,” a now-defunct cabaret.

Is a return in the cards?: The Grammys performance instantly became a career highlight for Chapman, and it could well stoke demand for her return to recording and touring. This year she is also nominated for the Songwriters Hall of Fame. If she is inducted — a good bet — that could provide another opportunity for a public appearance.

“There’s always been demand for Tracy Chapman to return to performing,” Rich McLaughlin, the program director at WFUV, a radio station in New York that celebrates songwriters, said in an email. “Whether or not it will increase the chances of her doing so, however, is difficult to predict.”

She follows her muse: Chapman’s longtime fans may have their fingers crossed, but they have also learned patience. “Tracy Chapman is an artist who follows her muse, not market demand,” McLaughlin added. “If she based her decision solely on demand, she’d have returned to touring years ago.”

[From the NYT]

I am so glad that new generations, including younger millennials, are being exposed to Tracy’s music. I couldn’t be happier for all of this unexpected yet more-than-welcomed renewed success. After the Grammy performance, her original version of Fast Car hit #1 on iTunes for a few days, which is awesome. I can understand why she’d choose a quieter life out-of-the-spotlight, though, even though I selfishly wish we’d get to see and hear more from her! If you haven’t watched her Wembley Stadium performance, it’s a must-watch. Stand By Me is one of my favorite songs, so I also love her cover of it on Letterman. I’d also recommend checking out her performance of Give Me One Reason as the 1997 Grammys. If you like what you hear and want to do a deep dive, I love all of the first album. Oh, and The Promise, off of 1995’s New Beginnings is just incredible. Ahh, again, I’m so happy that it’s finally getting more recognition from a whole new audience!

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photos credit: Joy Scheller / Avalon, Don Feria / Wenn / Avalon and Getty

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27 Responses to “Tracy Chapman lives a quiet life in San Francisco out of the spotlight”

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  1. Cheshire Sass says:

    Great music and musicians will always stand the test of time – She deserves all the accolades now as she did back when her first album was released in the late 80’s, the greats are timeless.

  2. NJGR says:

    What I got out of the above was that she may not have a girlfriend. Buying my ticket to SF now.

    • Eowyn says:

      I was thinking along the same lines as you! She’s a gorgeous talented woman, who appears to have a kind and generous soul (is she single)?

    • ItHappenedOneNight says:

      My boyfriend knows she’s my hall pass. In fact, he’s fully on board… Been “straight-ish” my whole life but wouldn’t think twice about ANY kind of chance with her. SHE is why I completely understand why people are pansexual. Gah – stunning in every aspect. And that voice like honey.

  3. Emmy Rae says:

    One of my favorites. Sounds like she wasn’t broken by the celebrity system – that’s joyful to hear. I would welcome any new music she wants to share but the existing catalogue never gets old, either.

    • Ciotog says:

      She seems to be very comfortable in her own skin and at peace with herself and her life. I loved witnessing that, and the admiration and respect Combs had for her.

  4. Louise says:

    I got to see her back in 1988 at the Amnesty International concert in Montreal. She was extraordinary – received a standing ovation BEFORE she started singing.

  5. Slush says:

    I am so happy for her and the success of the song, I hope that people respect her desire to remain private.

  6. Blithe says:

    And she has a smile that lights up the universe! I’ve admired her and loved her music since I bought that first cassette! ( I might still have it!)

    I’m also heartened by the story behind all of this current attention. Thanks to Luke Combs, a lot of people, including me, feel a little more heartened, and a little more open, and a little more willing to stretch ourselves. I’m grateful and delighted that Tracy Chapman welcomed Combs’s cover version and that both of them blessed us with that deeply moving, stunning duet. The videos I had of the Grammy performance have all been scrubbed. I HOPE that means that the performance will soon be released, and I will happily buy it.

  7. Nev says:

    New Beginnings is one of the best!!

  8. Nanea says:

    Fast Car really stood the test of time, and I am so happy for her that the cover by Luke Combs and this performance at the Grammys introduced her to a new audience, and earned her quite a lot of money.

    While she always looked good and had charisma, she has grown even better looking with her grey hair. Someone on Xwitter did a side by side comparison with Doria Ragland, and they both look similarly graceful.

    Fingers crossed for us for hopefully some new music, or a gig now and then.

  9. Michael says:

    I used to listen to her debut album nonstop back in the day. Not a single skip on the whole album. It is once to see her getting praise all these years later

  10. Lucía says:

    Don’t know what it is about these very lowkey yet larger than life people that draws me to them. I just really like not knowing a lot about them besides whatever they’re willing to show. It happens with people like Sade Adu (to quote Emma Thompson in Love, Actually, I love her, and true love lasts forever) and Tracy.

    • Deering24 says:

      I admire these folks immensely because they’ve got their priorities straight. Celebrity arguably trashes more talents than booze and drugs put together. It’s a lot of noise that doesn’t really nourish anyone (except the very rare exception like Taylor Swift. 🤣) And for a lot of creatives, it’s vital to have a semi-normal life you can either draw inspiration from–or that comforts you when the art isn’t selling/no one gets you/you have failures. And that life gives you space and time to really come up with inspired stuff.

  11. Sharon says:

    I saw her live in Cape Town eons ago. She has amazing talent and her music has longevity. So happy for her.

  12. Normades says:

    I reread the lyrics to Fast Car and they are an absolutely heartbreaking tale of the cycle of poverty. Tracy said that she was thinking of her parents when she wrote it so I think it is from the POV of her mother. In the end she asks her deadbeat baby daddy to take his fast car away from there. Tracy’s father left when she was 4 and she was in a magnet program for underprivileged youth that led her to getting into an excellent college. She is such an inspiration.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I just listened to the Wembley version & cried my eyes out all over again. It’s the story, it reminds me of my mom, and it breaks my heart.

  13. lizbert says:

    I saw her once walking down Polk Street when I lived in SF years ago. Left her alone of course but had a quiet thrill 🙂

  14. QuiteContrary says:

    I saw her live another lifetime ago, and she was amazing.

  15. bluhare says:

    Ditto, ditto, ditto, and Beach Blanket Babylon was the bomb. Saw it years ago now, and it was go, so good.

  16. Arhus says:

    A shame that business owners are announcing that she is so down to earth, but also basically telling the world that Tracy lives in their neighborhood

  17. NEENA ZEE says:

    Baby Can I Hold You — still gives me chills (or makes me tear up) every time I hear it.