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The Fascinating story behind Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car

Written by on February 7, 2024


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 04: (L-R) Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs perform onstage during the 66th GRAMMY Awards on February 04, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

With everyone once again talking about Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car after she performed the song with an obviously awestruck Luke Combs who has done a cover at the recently held Grammy Awards and the song now at number 1 on charts all over the world.

But what many may not know is that the song which was Chapman’s first single in 1988 came to prominence that year in an unusual way. 
June 11th, 1988. Wembley Stadium< England and tens of thousands of people have come together as part of a tribute to Nelson Mandela on his 70th birthday. The artist lineup included artists like Whitney Houston, George Michael, Stevie Wonder, UB40, Aswad and a then new and relatively unknown artist named Tracy Chapman who was there to provide almost a break in between the big names.
Chapman went on and performed her set and thought that was the end of her contribution to the concert. However, disaster struck when Stevie Wonder who was one of the biggest draws for the event discovered that the hard disks containing the recorded music required for his set were missing just as he was about to enter the stage.  Wonder left the stage distraught after it was clear that he would be unable to perform his set and the organisers rushed Chapman back on stage. As she stood there looking out a crowd who had starting grumbling after it was announced Stevie Wonder would not be performing a visibly nervous Tracy Chapman launches in to Fast Car and within a few moments of the song the crowd is visibly stunned and now engrossed in a song about growing up hard. 
Chapman’s performance of ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Across the Lines’ was met with rave reviews by the 80,000 spectators in attendance, and the 600 million viewers who tuned in from around the world.

Her debut record sold an additional 1.75 million copies in the next two weeks. Furthermore, the song Fast Car reached No. 6 in the US and No. 4 in the UK and garnered nominations for two Grammys and an MTV Video Music Award. Thanks to its impact, Chapman also won the Best Contemporary Folk Album, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammys, and Best New Artist.


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