Saturday, April 11, 2020

Harry Chapin (1942-1981)

I visited a grave today.

One of the most popular musicians -- and certainly the most beloved -- of my youth was Harry Chapin. Harry released 12 singles during the Seventies, all big hits. You've probably heard his most famous songs, "Cat's in the Cradle" (on relations between a son and father) and "Taxi" (in which a musician driving a cab is hailed by a former lover). Harry performed "Taxi" on the Johnny Carson "Tonight" show and they got so many calls that Chapin was invited to return the next night. It was the first time in the show's history a performer returned for an encore.

Harry Chapin's songs tell stories. Poignant, poetic stories. They resonate to our common human experience. Harry's songs have passed the test of time and are as compelling today as they were a half-century ago.

Beyond music, Harry devoted exceptional effort to social causes. He fought to end world hunger. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work. Amazingly, half of the concerts Chapin performed during his lifetime were benefits where he donated all proceeds to charity. After Harry's death, his widow joked, "Harry was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations, and 82 charities. Harry wasn't interested in saving money."

Sadly Chapin died young at age 38. He was driving his VW bug on the Long Island Expressway on the way to a benefit concert when he got rear-ended by a tractor-trailer.

Harry lived and died on Long Island, N.Y. His wife Sandy says Harry "envisioned a Long Island where the arts flourished, universities expanded, and humane discourse was the norm. He thought Long Island represented a remarkable opportunity."

I visited Harry's grave today. It's located in my hometown (Huntington). Amusingly, people have left toy taxi cars on the grave. The worn epitaph is from one of his songs:

"Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man's life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world."


Harry's daughter Jen sings the song quoted on his gravestone in a very moving manner:


  1. Harry Chapin was truly a special person and his songs are always worth hearing again.
    In 1981 we bought a small house in Syosset. We were driving from the final walk through to the closing in Hempstead when we were stopped in a traffic jam on the LIE. We were quite late for the closing and since there were no cell phones at the time we were a bit stressed. It was only later that we learned that the traffic jam was due to Harry's accident.
    About 20 years ago I went to a tribute to him at the City Winery. I think that Pete Fornatale hosted. Harry's brother was one of the performers and while my two favorite songs are "Cat's" and "Taxi", his brother sang a great rendition of "Morning DJ".
    Harry's voice lives on and Harry will always be missed.

  2. "Cat's in the Cradle" has always been one of my favourite songs - I remember hearing it on the radio in our VW van back in the 70s, and loving the story it told. Very cool that you visited his grave.

  3. Oh what a wonderful person! There are so many inspiring people who do things that change many lives. He died when he was younger than me! I wonder what he would have done if he'd lived longer!

    1. Kezzie, look up his songs. You'll like them.