Raised in a working class neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, TRACY CHAPMAN learned how to play guitar as a child, and began to write her own songs shortly afterward. Following high school, she won a minority scholarship to attend Tufts University, where she studied anthropology and African studies. While there, she became fascinated with folk-rock and singer/songwriters and began performing her own songs at coffeehouses. Eventually, she recorded a set of demos at the college radio station. One of her fellow students, Brian Koppelman, heard Chapman play and recommended her to his father, Charles Koppelman, who ran SBK Publishing. In 1986, she signed with SBK and Koppelman secured a management contract with Elliot Roberts, who had worked with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Roberts and Koppelman helped Chapman sign to Elektra in 1987.
Chapman's eponymous debut album was greeted with enthusiastic reviews in the spring of 1988, and she set out on the road supporting 10,000 Maniacs. The single "Fast Car" climbed the charts; the album's sales soared along with the single, and by the end of the year, the record had gone multi-platinum. Early the following year, the record won four Grammys, including one for Chapman as Best New Artist.
It was an auspicious beginning to Chapman's career, and it was perhaps inevitable that her second album, 1989's darker, more political Crossroads, although well-reviewed, wasn't as successful. Following Crossroads, Chapman spent a few years in seclusion, returning in 1992 with Matters of the Heart. Three years later, she returned with New Beginning, which received stronger reviews than its predecessor. The bluesy "Give Me One Reason" was pulled as the first single, and it slowly became a hit, sending the album into the U.S. Top Ten in early 1996. Telling Stories followed in early 2000.
Although Chapman worked from the same confessional singer/songwriter foundation that had been popularized in the '70s, her powerful, affecting lyrics helped ushered in a new era of singer/songwriters that lasted well into the '90s.