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Harry Chapin.

Byline: By ROBIN TURNER Western Mail

Harry chapin was the master of the story-song and his melancholic hits, like Cat's in the Cradle about an absentee father and W.O.L.D about the life of a morning DJ, are played as much today as when they were first written. Tragically the talented singer-songwriter died in the summer of 1981 when a truck ploughed into his car in New York. He was on his way to a concert at the time and although there were stories about Chapin being a notoriously bad driver, General Supermarkets, the firm which owned the truck, eventually gave the singer's widow Sandy $12m in compensation.

He was only 38 when he died but he left behind a long legacy of wistful and timeless songs on albums such as Sniper and Other Love Songs, Short Stories and Verities and Balderdash.

Chapin did not concern himself only with songwriting and performing. Posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honour in 1987 for his campaigning on social issues, he highlighted the issue of hunger around the world.

He first came to prominence in the US with his signature hit Taxi (1972), the story of a disillusioned cabbie meeting an old lover.

Then, in 1974, he scored what was probably his biggest hit with Cat's In the Cradle, a song about an inconsiderate, career-oriented father that was based on a poem written by Chapin's wife.

Ironically, Sandy Chapin partly wrote the poem about Harry Chapin himself, and the time his music work was taking up at a time when they had a newborn son, Josh.

But the song was mainly about Sandy's first husband, whose father was a businessman and president of the Borough of Brooklyn.

The father and son had a strained relationship, mainly because of the father's politics and business work.

Chapin's brother Tom, also a musician, said of Cat's in the Cradle, 'It put more fathers ill at ease than any other song in history.'

The single reached the top of the Billboard music charts in the US in December 1974 and sold in millions around the world, earning Harry a Grammy nomination for Best Song of 1974.

Children bought the record for their parents and wives played it for their busy husbands, while church ministers referred to the story in the song in their Sunday sermons.

The song also became a 'must play' on radio stations on Father's Day.

The song has been covered by Judy Collins, Johnny Cash, rock group Ugly Kid Joe and singer Ricky Skaggs. And Darryl McDaniels, a founding member of rap group Run-DMC, joined singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan and recorded the song to tell his personal story of adoption.

When Chapin died on the Expressway, at a place called Jericho, he left behind his wife and their five children.

His daughter Jen Chapin, a Brooklyn musician, now chairs the board of World Hunger Year, the organisation her father co-founded 28 years ago to feed the poor.

'You can either be a giver or a taker,' Harry Chapin had told his children as they grew. His widow Sandy Chapin chairs the board of Long Island Cares, the islandwide food bank started by her husband in 1980. His son Jaime is director of advancement for the New York City Mission Society, which helps inner-city children succeed in school. Another son, Jono, is involved with community building projects. Robin Turner: What happened on the day Harry Chapin died:The crash which killed Harry Chapin happened on July 16, 1981, just after midday. Harry was driving on the Long Island Expressway, in the left hand fast lane, at about 65 miles an hour. Either due to engine failure or possibly the beginnings of a heart attack, he put on his emergency flashers then slowed, almost colliding with a car. He then drove into the path of a truck which rammed the rear of Harry's blue 1975 VW Rabbit. As a result of the crash, a piece of glass went through Harry's heart. The driver of the truck got Harry out of the car, which was burning due to a fractured petrol tank. He was helicoptered to hospital where he was declared dead. Elektra Records gave $10,000 to start at memorial fund for Harry Chapin, which has since raised many millions of pounds to combat world hunger.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 28, 2006
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