The Quintessential American Songwriter: Harry Chapin

The first-time I heard Harry Chapin’s first hit, was while riding in a taxi in New York City. Of course, the song was “Taxi.”

Harry Chapin was a folk singer-songwriter best known for the worldwide hit “Cat’s in the Cradle.” His first hit was 1972’s “Taxi,” which is about a relationship with a woman named Sue. The song is about an interaction after their initial time together while Harry was driving a taxi in San Francisco. “Sequel” was written in 1980 as a continuation of the story from Taxi.

“Cat’s in the Cradle” was a worldwide hit; it was #1 in the United States. The song was co-written by his wife, Sandy. Chapin has said the song scares him to death as it is about his son. Harry’s brother, Tom, said the song “put more fathers ill at ease than any other song in history.” The song describes a father that did not make time to spend with his son. When the son becomes an adult, he does not make time to visit his father. The father realizes the son is prioritizing other things and neglecting family just as he did.

Harry left a legacy of philanthropy. He was a founder of World Hunger Year, which still exists today. He held benefit concerts for many causes, foundations, and charities.

Chapin died in 1981 at the age of 38. He was hit by a semi-truck while driving a 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit on the LIE in his hometown of New York and succumbed to injuries from the accident. Like Jim Croce and several other songwriters who have left us too early, we can only wonder what great musical contributions he could have given us.