When Tracy Chapman graduated from high school, one person wrote in the yearbook that she would marry her guitar and live happily ever after. Well, of course, the musician did not marry her guitar, but it became the source of her “happily-ever-after” ending after landing a recording contract.
Although she wanted to become a veterinarian, the stars aligned to put her in the path of music, and now Tracy Chapman’s net worth has grown to $8 million, thanks to her musical gift. She threw out her plans to be in a band and has been a solo performer since the start of her career. Here is more about her journey to accumulating the millions.
Growing Up With a Love for Music
According to RollingStone, Chapman grew up in Cleveland in a predominantly black neighborhood. Chapman's mother, Hazel, was a single parent after divorcing her husband when the singer was only four years old. Chapman was raised alongside her older sister, Aneta, and they were all blessed with beautiful voices. Hazel was even a part-time singer who lent her angelic voice to social events.
Since the single mother did not bother asking for alimony after winning custody of her two children, money was tight in the Chapman household, but they never lacked food on the table or a roof over their heads. Hazel worked low-paying jobs, and the income was supplemented by money from the welfare program. The poverty never dulled their spirits.
The Chapman house was lively with music, and Chapman recalls listening to records from Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Caesar, and Betty Wright. The other families did not appreciate music as much as the Chapmans did, and the singer always felt awkward not seeing records in the houses she visited. Her love for music resulted in her mother buying a ukulele when Chapman was in first grade.
Later on, she learned to play the clarinet and organ, and at eight years old, the musician began composing her songs on the organ. She said they were terrible songs, considering she could only write what a typical eight-year-old could imagine.
Becoming More Exposed
She got a scholarship to Wooster School, a progressive private school, through a minority placement program, called ABC (A Better Chance). She remembers quickly becoming politically aware thanks to the program that took her from the sheltered life in Cleveland. Thankfully Hazel had raised her as a liberal child, so Chapman even joined basketball and softball teams.
She never put aside music; thus, during her sophomore year, Reverend Robert Tate, the then-school chaplain, organized for faculty members and students to donate money towards buying the upcoming musician a new guitar. The musician had always longed for one perhaps the desire being inherited from her mother, an amateur guitarist. Chapman’s composition skills had improved; thus, at 14, she composed her first social-commentary song, according to Britannica.
Chapman attended Tufts University after graduating from Wooster School. She continued writing music from a personal point of view and began performing in folk clubs in Cambridge and Boston. According to The Washington Post, she would sometimes sing in the streets, especially in the summertime as she tried to earn a living. Usually, street performers' earnings depend on the location, and you can make up to $500 in a single weekend.
Still, the musician was undecided on being a musician; she was more inclined to study anthropology after letting go of her dream to become a veterinarian. Small recording labels had already recognized Chapman's talent, but she was not ready to take the plunge. Things changed when a fellow student, Brian Koppelman, was organizing a protest rally. He was informed about a great singer whom he could enroll to sing at the rally.
Therefore, he went to watch her perform at Cappuccino, a coffeehouse. Chapman’s performance captivated Koppelman. He told her that even if he did not usually introduce musicians to his father, Charles Koppelman, Koppelman would connect them because he thought Charles would help Chapman launch her career.
Getting Her First Recording Contract
After consistent persuasion, Koppelman finally got Chapman to talk to him. However, she declined to cut any demos for him. Since she had recorded demos for the school’s radio station, WMFO, Koppelman stole one tape which happened to have the song, “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution” on it. Koppelman made a copy which he sent to Charles.
It was so good that Charles wasted no time flying out to meet with Chapman. However, it took her six months to agree to sign a contract with Elektra Records. The singer confessed she was shocked because she never thought anyone would be interested in her type of music. She was right because of all the producers that Charles approached, only David Kershenbaum took up the project. It took eight weeks to record the “Tracy Chapman” album.
She never expected it to become a hit yet it did, peaking at No.1 on the US Billboard 200 and becoming six times platinum-certified by RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). In the US alone, it sold over six million copies and is hailed as one of the best-selling albums of all time. It sold over 20 million copies globally and is among the first female artist albums to sell over 10 million copies worldwide.
Her lyrics and vocal melody are so good that even Nicki Minaj used one of Chapman’s songs, “Baby Can I Hold You,” without Chapman’s permission. Of course, Chapman sued because she had rejected Minaj’s request to use the song. However, Minaj went ahead to record the song, “Sorry,” and even if she did not include it in her album “Queen,” it leaked, resulting in the lawsuit. Eventually, Minaj offered the singer $450,000 to avoid going to trial. Chapman has since recorded other albums that have helped increase her net worth, but none ever comes close to beating her debut album.
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Written by Allen Lee
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