His paternal grandfather, James Chapin, was an important portrait and muralist painter in the mid 20th Century. His maternal grandfather, Kenneth Burke, was a renowned philosopher and literary critic. His father, Jim Chapin, is a well know jazz drummer who played with Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman. His uncle, Richard Leacock, was the famed cinema verite filmmaker, for whom Harry worked before making his 1968 Oscar nominated film "Legendary Champions." All of these influences can be found in his urban folk, miniature movie story songs of blue collar Americans. And the influences can be felt in the diversity of his interests: a series of documentary films, 12 albums over 10 years, three broadway shows, an Emmy award winning children's TV series, "Make A Wish," a film score for "Mother and Daughter, the Loving War," TV special, and Oscar, Grammy, Peabody, Emmy and Tony nominations and awards.
Harry was an American troubadour. A tireless performer, he toured small towns and cities in intimate settings that often inspired his songs of simple people in ordinary circumstances: the disc jockey, fireman, taxi driver, factory worker, pretzel vendor, children, wives, and lovers - real people from Gloucester, San Francisco, Austin, Scranton, Dayton, Boise - from the Plains to the Poconos, all over this land. He communicated with his audience on a very personal level. By creating the texture, he put the listeners inside the experience to reveal the inner feelings and sensitivities of the lonely, the alienated, indifferent, frustrated and fearful who find small certainties and quiet victories.
By 1979 when Harry completed his contract with Elektra Records and signed with Boardwalk Records, his songs in the album, "Sequel" were reflective as in "Story of A Life." Our nation's attempt to save the world for democracy left us struggling to save what was left of our national pride and purpose. After the deaths of his activist heroes, John Lennon and Allard Lowenstein, he dedicated the remembrance, "Remember When The Music," to them. "The Last Protest Singer," which would be Harry's last album, had him looking at a renewed, individualized social conscience and was intended to be a film score for a composite protest singer like Woody Guthrie. "The Last Protest Singer" was a tribute to all those whom Harry admired and tried to emulate, and to those who had been compelled even in the face of failure and fear, to stand up and
Finally, Harry's last stage musical "Cotton Patch Gospel" based on the book, "The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John," by Georgia preacher/activist Clarence Jordan retells the gospel of Matthew as if Jesus were born in the 1930s in Gainesville, Georgia. Rolling Stone writer Dave Marsh called the combination spiritual, gospel & bluegrass "some of the best songs Harry Chapin ever wrote." The musical production has been staged in regional theatre, colleges and churches all over the United States and is as relevant today as when Harry wrote it.
His music fans will always remember him for his hits "Taxi," "WOLD," "Cat's In the Cradle," "Sequel," and hundreds of other songs. Others will remember him for co founding Why Hunger, (formerly World Hunger Year), founding Long Island Cares and supporting dozens of other organizations and causes. Congress remembered him by posthumously awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal - the highest honor bestowed by Congress. His tombstone is inscribed with words from "I Wonder What Would Happen To This World": "If a man tried before he died to prove what one man's life could be worth I wonder what would happen to this world."