Tracy Chapman Turns 34

Today is the 34th birthday of folk-rock singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman.

Best known for her signature hit, "Fast Car," Chapman was one of the artists who helped bring folk-rock back onto the charts in the late '80s. Her music has influenced the work of Lilith Fair tour mates Jewel and Sarah McLachlan, as well as that of indie-folk rocker Ani DiFranco.

Born in Cleveland, Chapman shared a love of music with her family and

began writing songs as a child. She attended a prep school on a

minority-placement scholarship, where she discovered folk-rock in

the music of such artists as Joan Armatrading, Joan Baez and Joni

Mitchell. She then moved on to Tufts University, where she majored in

anthropology and African studies and began playing guitar in

coffee houses. Chapman was signed

by Elektra in 1986 after a classmate called the attention of his

music-industry connected father to the aspiring singer. Her self-titled

debut was released in the spring of 1988 and yielded the huge hit, "Fast Car." She also attracted attention as an opening act on a 10,000 Maniacs tour and with her appearance at a tribute concert for Nelson Mandela. By the end of 1989, Chapman had picked up four Grammys -- including Best New Artist -- and had appeared on Amnesty International's "Conspiracy of Hope Tour" with such artists as Sting and Peter Gabriel.

Her follow-up, 1989's Crossroads, hit #9 on the charts but didn't

match the success of her first album. Chapman spent the next few years in

virtual seclusion but returned in 1992 with Matters of the Heart, an

album that peaked at #53 and was greeted with mixed reviews. An extended absence from the music scene followed. But 1996's New Beginning brought her back in a big way, with the song "Give Me One Reason" reaching the top of the charts. Last year, Chapman was one of the featured performers on the Lilith Fair tour.

Other birthdays: Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer/Asia), 51; Jimmie Vaughan (Fabulous Thunderbirds), 47; and Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats/Phantom Rocker & Slick), 37.