Harry Chapin was a multi-award-winning singer,
songwriter, composer, lyricist, poet, filmmaker,
and social activist. He was best-known for
his #1 hit, Cat's in the Cradle (1974).
Biographical fast facts
Full or original name at birth: Harry Foster Chapin
Date, time and place of birth: December 7, 1942,
at 11:22 a.m., Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, U.S.A.*
Date, time, place and cause of death: July 16, 1981,
at 1:05 p.m., Nassau County Medical Center, Long Island, New York, U.S.A. (Auto accident)
NOTE: Chapin's autopsy revealed that he
suffered a heart attack, but it is not
known whether it occurred before, or as
a result of the collision.
Spouse: Sandy Gaston (Sandra Campbell Gaston)
(m. November 28, 1968 - July 16, 1981) (his death)
Son: Joshua Burke Chapin (b. 1972)
Daughter: Jennifer Elspeth Chapin (b. July 1971)
Stepchildren: Jaime, Jonothon (known as Jono) and Jason
Father: James Forbes Chapin (a jazz drummer)
Mother: Elspeth (Burke) Chapin
Burial site: Huntington Rural Cemetery,
555 New York Avenue, Huntington, Long Island, New York, U.S.A.
Birth information source
* Source: Birth certificate |
Harry Chapin's first hit was Taxi (1972),
followed by Sniper (1972) and W*O*L*D
(a.k.a. W-O-L-D or WOLD) (1973). Other
credits include, A Better Place to Be,
The Parade's Still Passing By, Circle,
Sequel, 30,000 Pounds of Bananas,
Tangled-Up Puppet, I Wanna Learn a Love Song
and Cat's in the Cradle. Harry wrote literally
hundreds of songs, and even found time to write
and perform in a Broadway musical called
The Night That Made America Famous (1975).
The show opened February 26th, 1975, at the
Ethel Barrymore Theatre and ran for 75 performances.
It closed April 6th, and earned two Tony
His first "professional" work came along in 1958,
when he began singing with his brothers as the
Chapin Brothers. Singing 3-part pubescent harmony,
they became locally popular junior folksingers.
As the '60s progressed, his career moved in another
direction. He turned to filmmaking and wrote, directed
and edited a multi-award-winning documentary about
boxing. Legendary Champions was a two-and-a-half-year
project that yielded first prize for best feature
documentary at both the New York and Atlanta, Georgia
film festivals, and was also nominated for an Academy
Award in 1969 for Best Feature Documentary. Another
of his documentaries, Blue Water, White Death (1971),
featured his music and proved the catalyst for his
permanent return to his musical career.
Some years he gave over 200 concerts. About half
of these were charitable events at which he
performed free-of-charge. He was credited with
personally raising millions of dollars over the
years through these benefit concerts. While the
general public knows him best as a folksinger,
troubadour and songwriter, the fact of the matter
is, he was a dedicated philanthropist who had an
undying commitment to end world hunger. He gave
an incredible amount of his personal time and
money to charitable causes. In fact, he gave away
a fortune to fight hunger and poverty. Chapin
supported literally dozens of charitable
organizations and co-founded World Hunger Year
in 1975. He was one performer who put his money
where his mouth was. Chapin once commented, "I'm
not one of those people who sends $5 to CARE on
the week before Christmas and thinks my check
means that I don't have to care about starving
kids for another 52 weeks."
His songs told interesting, poignant, sentimental,
sometimes heart-wrenching stories of loneliness,
alienation, unfulfilled dreams, or lost loves.
His most famous narrative song (co-written by
his wife Sandy) was the evocative Cat's In The
Cradle, off the Verities and Balderdash album.
The memorable chart-topping tune told the story
of a neglectful, career-oriented father who
realizes too late, that he has no relationship
with his son, who turns out to be equally
neglectful of him in his old age. His moral
storytelling won a devoted following, but critics
often attacked his work as "maudlin," "banal,"
"overwrought," "moralistic," "overly-sentimental,"
"heavy-handed" and "preachy."
Other notable career highlights include, founding
trustee of World Hunger Year (1975-81), and member
of the President's Committee on International,
Domestic, and World Hunger (1978-81). The founding
of President Jimmy Carter's Presidential Commission
was primarily the result of Harry Chapin's personal
His untimely death in an auto accident came
as he was driving himself on the Long Island
Expressway to yet another benefit concert.
Harry was posthumously awarded a Congressional
Gold Medal of Honor for his humanitarian efforts
to end world hunger.
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