A new feature of the Coltons Point Times is to recognize those artists now departed whose contributions to music and life made them giants among people and Harry Chapin is the first of the series. This greatest of all storytellers quietly left a mark on society that stands alone. Twice I got to see Harry in concert and it was an honor to experience the joy and love he gave to the audience and the world. Following is a video of his last recorded performance in Canada 30 years ago that took place just 11 months before his fatal car crash in NYC.
Harry Chapin (December 7, 1942 – July 16, 1981) was an American singer-songwriter best known in particular for his folk rock songs including "Taxi", "W*O*L*D", and the number-one hit "Cat's in the Cradle"; as well as his folk musical based on the biblical book of John, "Cotton Patch Gospel". Chapin was also a dedicated humanitarian who fought to end world hunger, his work a key player in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977. In 1987, Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work.
Chapin was resolved to leave his imprint on Long Island. He envisioned a Long Island where the arts flourished and universities expanded and humane discourse was the norm. "He thought Long Island represented a remarkable opportunity," said Chapin's widow, Sandy.
Chapin served on the boards of the Eglevsky Ballet, the Long Island Philharmonic, Hofstra University. He energized the now-defunct Performing Arts Foundation (PAF) of Huntington.
In the mid-1970s, Chapin focused on his social activism, including raising money to combat hunger in the United States. His daughter Jen said: "He saw hunger and poverty as an insult to America". He co-founded the organization World Hunger Year with legendary radio DJ Bill Ayres, before returning to music with On the Road to Kingdom Come. He also released a book of poetry, Looking...Seeing, in 1977. Many of Chapin's concerts were benefit performances (for example, a concert to help save the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York), and sales of his concert merchandise were used to support World Hunger Year.
Chapin's social causes at times caused friction among his band members and then-manager Fred Kewley. Chapin donated an estimated third of his paid concerts to charitable causes, often performing alone with his guitar to reduce costs. Mike Rendine played Bass during the years of 1979.
One report quotes his widow saying soon after his death — "only with slight exaggeration" — that "Harry was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn't interested in saving money. He always said, 'Money is for people,' so he gave it away." Despite his success as a musician, he left little money and it was difficult to maintain the causes for which he raised more than $3 million in the last six years of his life. The Harry Chapin Foundation was the result.