On July 16, 1981, singer-songwriter-activist Harry Chapin died in an automobile crash on the Long Island Expressway in New York. He was 38 years old. He was best known in the mainstream for his number one hit, “Cat’s In The Cradle” and for his song, “Taxi”.
Somewhere around 1979 I bought my first Harry Chapin album, and fell in love with the music and songs that his fans loved. The music that was rarely played on the radio due to their length or their “un-commercial-ness”. His “live” albums taught me more about Harry’s activism and his passion for helping people. As he introduced each song, he told the stories that inspired the songs and he spoke of his causes.
On the night of his death, after hearing the news; a friend of mine and I listened to every Harry Chapin album I owned. We sang along to each of Harry’s stories, and knew that even though Harry was gone–his fight and struggle would continue.
Harry’s fight was to end world hunger. In 1977 he was instrumental in forming the Presidential Commission on World Hunger. He co-founded World Hunger Year with radio personality Bill Ayres and after his death was the inspiration for USA for Africa and Hands Across America. Harry was known for putting his money where his mouth was, and often did two concerts in a city; one to pay the band and live, and the other to give the proceeds away. Harry’s efforts to sway politicians to fund programs for the hungry made him a frequent presence in Washington, D.C. In 1987, Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work. WhyHunger.Org still exists today and still does the work to fight hunger in the world.
I have had many inspirations in my life, and Harry Chapin was one of the biggest. Harry taught me that fame, fortune, and success mean nothing, unless you help people along the way. An income is useless unless one also uses it to benefit the less fortunate. It was not enough for Harry to perform and sing for his audiences, it was his calling to inspire us to do something with our lives; to sing for a reason.
“Remember when the music
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wire
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire,
For we believed in things, and so we’d sing.”
Since, I am a comedian; I’m also a frustrated singer and “wannabe” musician. That seems to be a trait among many comedians. My favorite Harry Chapin song is his closing number that he would perform at his concerts. I always envisioned myself one day singing that “story” to my audiences.
A story of a performer, singing his last song of the night. Tired, hoarse, and ready to go home; but willing to sing one more for the audience that gives him back so much more than he gives them. Harry always gave more.
It’s your “Saturday Diversion”, but in no way whatsoever, was Harry Chapin’s life a diversion.
“When in doubt, do something.
To know is to care, to care is to act, to act is to make a difference.”