Remembering Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin was an incredible musician, a gifted storyteller and a committed activist for social justice who co-founded WhyHunger in 1975. Just a few years later, on July 16, 1981, Harry’s life was tragically cut short.

WhyHunger honors Harry every day by carrying forward his work to end hunger and build a just world. We invite you to use the simple form below to share your memories of Harry. We also invite you to help WhyHunger bring about Harry’s vision of a hunger-free world by joining Harry’s Giving Circle, a special group of monthly donors who know that together we can have a bigger impact!

Join the Giving Circle

  • Harry Chapin performs during Hungerthon in the 1970s.

    Photo credit: Diane Maple
  • Bill Ayres and Harry Chapin at WNEW FM for WhyHunger's annual Hungerthon broadcast.

    Photo credit: Diane Maple
  • Harry Chapin inspiring listeners and asking for donations during yet another Hungerthon.

    Photo credit: Diane Maple
Thom Wolke: Time to Remember - Harry Chapin & John Lennon
Time to Remember 
By Thom Wolke 2009
Early December is a funny time of year, a sort of no-man’s land between the year-end holidays. It’s been made gradually worse by commercialism to the point that holiday decorations now appear in stores in October. 

Still, December 7th holds a powerful place in a lot of people’s lives, especially the generation before me. It was yesterday’s 9/11 battle cry. 

But December 7th also holds a special place in my heart, and represents something finer during this ‘waiting’ period. For December 7th, 1942, precisely one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, was the day one of my favorite performers and lasting influences on my life, was born. 

Harry Chapin considered himself a “third-rate Folk Singer” but he was also an incredible humanitarian. This cannot be overemphasized. He almost single-handedly created the “Presidential Commission on Hunger” under Jimmy Carter, and he wouldn’t stop there, even after Carter agreed to its creation. Like a Pit-Bull unwilling to let go, Harry, sitting across the table, told Carter he wanted him, the President, committed to the cause. 

I was very fortunate to have a few encounters with Harry Chapin and his family. Hopefully I’ve take away some of the ideals of his life - ideals I try to uphold to this day. 

I first got to speak to Harry at a Pro-Celebrity tennis tournament in Forest Hills, NY. Later, I got his autograph on albums and on the tournament program book, and also got his son Josh’s (the “Cat’s In the Cradle” kid) very first autograph which I later sent to Harry’s widow. 

I went on to represent his brother, Tom Chapin, as his booking agent in the mid-80s, helping shepherd him into the world of Children’s Music. I was Tom’s photographer at the Carnegie Hall tribute to Harry, when he posthumously received the Congressional Gold Medal from Senator Leahy. To this day I’m involved in fundraising efforts for progressive causes such as this past Autumn’s concerts with Pete Seeger and Guy Davis in Lebanon and Brattleboro. Harry definitely touched me. 

Now every year, another early December date hits the headlines. December 8th, the day John Lennon was murdered in front of his wife, twenty-eight years ago. 

I have connections to this man, too. 

I walked by the Dakota apartment John shared with Yoko and their five year-old son Sean that afternoon, returning from the Museum of Natural History. I have no significant memory of that day other than noticing the small gathering of fans who always waited outside the entrance hoping to catch a glimpse of their ‘working class hero’, and I bought “Double Fantasy” when I returned home to NJ. 

Later that night, John Lennon was dead. 

Lennon was re-emerging from a self-imposed ‘exile’ with his new album before he was cut down by Mark David Chapman. He was trying to take back control of his life, and to do it on his own terms, when things were altered forever. 

Perhaps we each have our own ‘Chapmans’ in life, people or events that forever alter our direction. Not all of them are as final as Lennon’s, but that single senseless act has forever changed and altered the lives of everyone who came to know of John Winston Lennon, whether as family and friends, or fans gathered daily in front of the Dakota. 

Today, I’m the American manager for the “Quarrymen”, Lennon’s original band mates who eventually morphed into the greatest Rock & Roll band of all time. 

A couple of years ago, I was led around Liverpool by three of the band members who teased me with that famous Liverpool wit we’ve all come to know and love. Drummer Colin Hanton took particular zeal in poking fun of our ‘Uber-Tourist’ trip around town with quips like, “Rod (Davis), why are we driving all over, just tell him that field over there is ‘Strawberry Fields’, and let’s go get a pint,” or “Didn’t he see the film ? Just tell him John, Paul, and George all lived right next-door to one another.” 

When I brought the Quarrymen to America for the first time ever in 1998, we had the opportunity before their New York City show to wander uptown to the Dakota and across the street in Central Park to an area dedicated as “Strawberry Fields”. There’s a large plaque there embedded in the pathway, a simple disc that reads, “Imagine”. Pete Shotton, Lennon’s life-long best friend, wanted to visit privately with Yoko so we waited in the park, sitting on a bench near the plaque. It was a beautiful summer day, lots of folks strolling the paths. The Quarrymen and I talked about their boyhood memories and of Lennon’s legacy. 

I took note of a young woman lining up a perfect ‘postcard photo’ of the disc in the sidewalk. Delighting in the irony that there we were - Lennon’s best mates and I - on a bench obviously in the background of her photo, I approached her and told her of this coincidence. Amazingly, this 20 year-old knew who the Quarrymen were! She was a huge fan of Lennon. Even more incredible, this woman, with a thick German accent, told me that she flew here on her vacation specifically to take that photo of the plaque and absorb things in “Strawberry Fields” and around the Dakota. 

She took a couple more photos with the lads, and they invited her to the show that night at the Bottom Line. She never showed up, but I’ll bet her life had been changed in some way, forever. 

Both Harry Chapin and John Lennon, now bound by this coincidence of birth and death dates, shared the ideals of the goodness of mankind, and each in their own way struggled to find that in themselves and in the ways they tried to help others. 

My hope is that these ideals are what people can ponder in these times leading up to our annual year-end holidays with family and friends. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

I never met Harry. I was born at least six years too late. But I grew up on his music. Every night, my dad would sing me Taxi--because of Cats in the Cradle. I wouldn't have the father I do if it weren't for that song. Thank you, Sandy and Harry, for that gift.

Friday, 15 July 2016
Debi Saul: Harry /Buffalo NY

I met Harry back in 1975 when he was playing in Buffalo NY.  This was 1 of the many times I saw him. During the show he talked about world hunger and explained he was selling a book of poems he had written and if anyone wanted to stick around after the show, he would personnaly sign the book.  So my husband bought me the book and we stood in line for his autograph.  Now yo have to know I was approx 7 months pregnant at that time and ou know how people can be when you are standing in line...pushing , shoving.  Harry looked up and saw me there and said to everyone.."ok everyone stop.  Don't you see we have a pregnant lady in our midst and you have to be careful"  He then parted the way for me to come up to the table and signed my book and kissed my cheek.  He made my day/life.  Harry's music has gotten me through some very rough times and has been with me at some of the happiest of my life.  In this world right now we need more people like Harry....loving, giving and fighting for what is right.  I am sure he had flaws like everyone does, but I will always remember him for his smile and willingness to fight for humanity.   

Harry was one of a kind and on July 16th..we lost a wonderful soul.

Friday, 15 July 2016
Larry Mathias: Remembering Harry

Thanks Jen for providing the forum to share our memories. 

In the mid-1970s, I spent time working at both my high school radio station and our school newspaper. During the summer of 1974, I met someone from another high school an hour from my home who
 also worked at his high school radio station, and he invited me to tour his school’s studios. While I was there, I heard my first Harry Chapin song, W*O*L*D. As an aspiring DJ at the time, the song struck a chord with me. On my way home, I went to a local record store and started listening to other Chapin songs, especially: “Sniper,” “Sunday Morning Sunshine,” “Better Place to Be,” and “Circle” from Sniper and Other Love Songs; “They Call Her Easy,” Mr. Tanner,” and “Mail Order Annie” from Short Stories; and “Taxi,” “Greyhound,” and “Dogtown” from Heads & Tails. I became instantly hooked on Harry’s music. No singer before Harry had lyrics that resonated with me the way his songs did.

Fast-forward to the summer of 1975, and Harry was scheduled to perform with Janis Ian as part of the Summer of Stars at Washington Park race track in my hometown of Homewood, Ill. I called the local concert promoter for the event, and talked my way into an interview with Harry following the concert. As often happened, Harry’s concert ran longer than expected because of repeated encores. I came to the rail on the track at a make-shift security entrance as instructed. There, the promoter met me and told me that he would need to cancel the interview because Harry’s concert ran long. With Harry just three feet from me giving encouragement to a kid in a wheelchair, I swung behind the wheelchair and waited for him to finish. While the promoter tried to whisk him away after the meet-and-greet, I jumped over and told Harry that while I was disappointed that we would no longer have time for our pre-arranged interview, I just wanted to meet him. Harry turned to the promoter and said, “if you promised this young man he could interview me, he’s going to get to interview me!” He led me past security and we sat in a covered tent while I ask my questions. To be honest, I don’t remember the answers to what must have been inane questions; but I do remember the kindness of this man and his insistence that a promise not be broken. At that moment, I was forever in awe of the man for life. His fights for injustice were not solely at the macro level, working to solve the plight of world hunger; he also fought the ‘little fights,’ correcting wrongs on a personal level as well.

I had the chance to meet Harry four other times during his life – once for another interview and three other times for autographs. I have supported his legacy by donating money to World Hunger Year or becoming involved in activities that generating contributions for WHY, such as company matching charity events and even a company bowling tournament whereby my team, the ‘Chapin Hunger Fighters,’ won the event and earned a donation to WHY.

In my home office, I proudly displayed the replica Gold Medal and the Program from the 1987 event at Carnegie Hall. Thirty-five years later, not a day goes by without a Harry Chapin song coming from my iPhone. I always wondered how the world would be a better place if Harry had lived longer to carry on his philanthropic efforts.

Friday, 15 July 2016
Jeff Alexander: Harry Chapin

Is it normal for a 73year old man cry for almost 2 hours? Well that's what happened when I went to a Chapin Family Concert in Englewood, NJ this past June.

Seeing Steve, Tom, Big John and Howie and daughter Jen brought back so many memories. Since then I have been playing Harry's songs in my car continually.

He was a gift to us followers at the right time. Taken away to soon, yes but the legacy continues.

The crispness of his voice, his rapport with the band and audience. More important was the words and poetry that he put together along with Sandy. Cat's in the Cradle, Tangled up puppet (my two children) Oh my Jenny, Corey's Coming, A better place to be, Story of a life, Circle.

I could go and on and on. So I will leave this note with this-"Remember When".

Best wishes to All, Jeff Alexander

Friday, 15 July 2016