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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the July 16, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Harry Chapin’s Musical Tales
This is the first time I’ve looked at Harry Chapin’s
music in a long, long time and I fell in love with it all over
again," says Frank Abrahams of Westminster Choir College.
Fortunately for Chapin fans throughout the Princeton area, Abrahams
made plans to do something about it.
"Lies and Legends: The Musical Stories of Harry Chapin" will
be presented in a free performance at Bristol Chapel on the
campus on Friday, August 1. Featured performers include Ben Dibble
and Adam Dietz, with musical direction by Abrahams and direction by
"We always plan a theatrical performance by staff during
high school summer workshop on campus," Abrahams explains. "To
high school kids Harry Chapin is not a household name, so I’m excited
about presenting him to a young audience."
"I’m old enough to remember Chapin through television and his
LPs. This was during the post-Vietnam era and the songs very much
reflected the mood of the country. It’s a shame people don’t sing
them more. He was a fine composer and his songs are really well
Harry Chapin was an American balladeer who made a career of setting
short stories to music. His most popular and enduring tunes include
"Taxi," "W.O.L.D.," and "Cat’s in the Cradle,"
as well as "Mr. Tanner," "The Rock," "Sniper,"
and "Tangled Up Puppet." "Lies and Legends" is a revue
that comprises 13 of his greatest hits.
Chapin devoted much of his time and income to help the hungry and
the socially disenfranchised. In 1975 he founded World Hunger Year,
a not-for-profit organization founded with radio talk show host and
present executive director Bill Ayres. Close to half his concerts
were performed as benefits for hunger relief. During his career he
raised over $5 million for social causes.
Chapin died on the Long Island Expressway on July 16, 1981, at the
age of 39. But he is still remembered through his music and generous
"Lies and Legends" was first produced in 1985 at the Village
Gate Theater in New York City. It is an ensemble show with all five
actors on stage most of the time, whether telling the story, singing
background vocals, or just listening. The actors appear as themselves,
singing directly to the audience, and often assuming the character
in the story they tell.
Chapin was born in 1942 in New York City, the second of four sons
of James and Jeanne Chapin. His two younger brothers, both former
members of his band, are Steve Chapin and the popular singer and
Tom Chapin. The eldest brother, Jim Chapin, born in 1941, was an
an activist, and a political consultant who died last year after
for 22 years as a member of the board of the World Hunger Year.
"Harry Chapin was a man who wrote from the heart about people
and situations he cared about deeply," says Abrahams. "He
had a real knack for telling a story at a time when folk music was
very much in vogue, but his songs are beyond most folk music in the
sense that they’re about ordinary people that anyone can relate to.
They have a very personal message."
"A well-written song makes an emotional impact on the listener
and on the performer. I think the young people are going to react
emotionally when they hear these lyrics."
— Nicole Plett
Westminster Choir College, Bristol Chapel, 609-921-2663. The
music of Harry Chapin performed by Ben Dibble, Adam Dietz, and
Free. Friday, August 1, 7:30 p.m.<
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