Harry Chapin (December 7, 1942 - July 16, 1981) was an American singer and songwriter. He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker, and directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary Academy Award. In 1971, he decided to focus on music. With John Wallace, Tim Scott and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various local nightclubs in New York City.
Chapin's debut album was Heads and Tales (1972), which was a success thanks to the single "Taxi." His follow-up album, Sniper and Other Love Songs, was less successful, but his third, Short Stories, was a major success. Verities & Balderdash, released soon after, was even more successful, bolstered by the chart-topping hit single "Cat's in the Cradle." He also wrote and performed a Broadway musical, The Night That Made America Famous.
In the mid 1970s, Chapin focused on his social activism, including raising money to combat hunger in the United States and co-founding the organization World Hunger Year, before returning to music with On the Road to Kingdom Come. He also released a book of poetry, Looking...Seeing, in 1977.
Chapin died on July 16, 1981 in an automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway at the age of 38. He was headed to perform a concert in Eisenhower Park in Nassau County when his car was struck by a truck. An autopsy showed that he had suffered a heart attack, but it could not be determined whether that occurred before or after the collision. Supermarkets General, the owner of the truck, paid $12 million in the ensuing litigation.
Chapin was interred in the Huntington Rural Cemetery, Huntington, New York. His epitaph is taken from his song "I Wonder What Would Happen to this World." It is:
Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man's life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world
Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1987 for his campaigning on social issues, particularly his highlighting of hunger around the world and in the United States. His work on hunger included being widely recognized as a key player in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977.
His brothers Tom Chapin and Steve Chapin are also musicians, as is his daughter, Jen Chapin.
A biography of Chapin titled Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story, by Peter M. Coan, was released following his death. Although Chapin had co-operated with the writer, following his death the family withdrew their support. There is some debate about the accuracy of the details included in the book.
"Cat's in the Cradle" was re-recorded by hard rock group Ugly Kid Joe in 1992 and once again topped the charts. A country version was also recorded by Ricky Skaggs in 1995. It would be sampled by DMC of Run DMC and Canadian diva Sarah MacLachlan in 2006 on the rapper's recent discovery that he was adopted in infancy.