2005 – Interview from the Tavis Smiley Show


© Tavis Smiley Show, September 14, 2005

Tavis Smiley: Good evening. From Los Angeles, I’m Tavis Smiley. So far, there have been few surprises in the confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts, but that may change tomorrow when a number of high profile witnesses for and against the Supreme Court nominee testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among those speaking out against Judge Roberts, is Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Tonight on the eve of his Senate testimony, a conversation with Wade Henderson, on why he believes Judge Roberts should not be confirmed as the next Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Also tonight, Grammy winning musician Tracy Chapman is here. She’s out this fall with her latest CD called, “Where You Live.” Later on, she’ll be joined by her band for a special performance. We’re glad you’ve joined us. That’s all coming up right now.

Tavis: Tracy Chapman is a talented Grammy winning singer-songwriter, who is now out with her seventh studio CD. She burst onto the music scene back in the late ’80s with her brilliant self-titled debut disc. Look how big discs were back in 1988. The album featured classic songs you know, like “Fast Car,” and “Talking About a Revolution,” “Behind the Wall,” love that one. Her new CD is called, “Where You Live.” And later on, she’ll perform with her band one of the songs off the disc. But first, Tracy Chapman, nice to have you in the studio.
Tracy Chapman: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

Tavis: Nice to have you. You – remember this?
Chapman: I do. I do.

Tavis: What do you remember about this?
Chapman: Well, let’s see, my hair is a little shorter.

Tavis: Yeah.
Chapman: You’re right, it’s much bigger.

Tavis: Much bigger than – yeah, just a little different.
Chapman: Just a little.

Tavis: Just a little different. You burst onto the scene, and a lot of people got to know you when you performed at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. Take me back to that moment and tell me how you wound up on that stage, and what that did to bring you to the attention of music lovers everywhere.
Chapman: It was an incredible opportunity. And I don’t know exactly how it came my way. But I was invited to go, and I think the idea was that they would put me on at some point in the show. I wasn’t slotted for a particular moment. But because I just had an acoustic guitar, it would be easy to just put on in any spot. And so I was waiting most of the day in the greenroom. And, you know, just amazed to be there because there were all my, you know, musical heroes.
And it was a wonderful event to celebrate Nelson Mandela, even though at that time he was still in jail. But, you know, to bring world attention to the plight of people in South Africa, and to Nelson Mandela’s, you know, experience of having been in jail for 17 years, I think at that point. But there I was waiting, and they called me numerous times saying, “We’re ready for you.” They weren’t quite ready for me, and they sent me back to the greenroom.
And then at the very last minute, Stevie Wonder was about to go on, and they didn’t have a certain piece of equipment that they needed, and they called me again, and I ran to the stage, dragging my guitar cable, and they kind of shoved me out there, and there I was.

Tavis: The rest, as they say, is history.
Chapman: Yeah, and I think it was the best thing that could have happened that particular day, that I didn’t have time to prepare, you know. I was – just had to get out there and do it. And so nerves didn’t have a chance to really kick in.

Tavis: I’m glad you say that, ’cause I want to follow up on that. I don’t know if it – is it just our show, or does every show have a Stevie Wonder story once a week? It’s like every other week somebody is on this show, and has a Stevie Wonder story. He’s always making a cameo on this program.
Chapman: Oh, is that right?

Tavis: Yeah. So, as soon as your album comes out, Stevie, we have to have you on the program, if you ever get it out, Stevie, we’re waiting on it. That said, I can only imagine, though, as a new artist, you were not frazzled with all of these, you know, aborted calls to the stage. “Ms. Chapman, we’re ready, Ms. Chapman, we’re not ready. Ms. Chapman, we’re ready, Ms. Chapman, we’re not ready.” And you still went out and did your thing.
Chapman: It was nerve-racking, but I do think just the fact that I went out without too much preparation, it just sort of kicked me into automatic mode. And like, well, you’re here to play, just play. And I can see myself, when I see the footage, I can see in my eyes that I’m trying to take the whole thing in, because they’re just sort of darting all over the place. And it was a wonderful experience. And as you mentioned, it was – the time when I was introduced to an international audience.

Tavis: How did you and this acoustic instrument become such lovers?
Chapman: It’s so funny you say that, because in my high school yearbook, it was noted that I would grow up and marry my acoustic guitar.

Tavis: (laughs) I didn’t even know that. That is funny. So somebody’s prediction was right, I guess.
Chapman: In some ways, I guess.

Tavis: In some ways, yeah.
Chapman: But I started playing guitar, acoustic guitar when I was about eight or nine years old, and writing songs at that time. And I had played other instruments, I had played clarinet and a little bit of organ before that. And I’ve always been musical.

Tavis: Not the Hammond B3?
Chapman: No, no. It was just…

Tavis: A little, a little tiny one, okay.
Chapman: Yeah, exactly.

Tavis: Why the guitar? Of all the things that you did play, why this instrument?
Chapman: Well, strange, but I’ll make it a short story. I think in some ways I might have been encouraged to play, because my family liked to watch this show called “Hee Haw.” It was a country music variety show.

Tavis: Yeah, I’ve – heard of it.
Chapman: Glen Campbell.

Tavis: I used to watch it, yeah.
Chapman: Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, I think. And they all played acoustic guitars, and I think I just loved the sound and the look of the guitars. And I thought, “Oh, that would be an interesting instrument to play.” And it just resonated with me, and I asked my mom for a guitar. But I didn’t know anyone who played. It was, you know.

Tavis: You mentioned at the Mandela thing, that a number of your musical icons were onstage that night. People like who?
Chapman: Well, Stevie Wonder, for instance, and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, was there, someone from Ohio also.

Tavis: Yeah. This is Tracy Chapman from Cleveland, y’all. Shout out to Cleveland. Yeah, all right.
Chapman: That’s right. So I mean, it – was incredible. And there I was in the greenroom with all these people, and, you know. It was unbelievable.

Tavis: Yeah. How important is it for you to express yourself through your writing? I mean, a lot of artists, as I’ve seen many times perform stuff other people do. You write pretty much everything that you do.
Chapman: Right.

Tavis: A lot of it.
Chapman: Right.

Tavis: Why is that so important to you?
Chapman: You know, at this point it’s something that’s just an integrated part of my life, in that I’ve always had an interest in music. I think I could sing as soon as I could talk. You know, my mom tells these stories about me singing pop songs to relatives on the phone. I could remember the lyrics to pop songs. I started writing songs and short stories when I was really young. And it’s just always been something that I’ve been interested in. And so I continue to do it, and never thought early on, you know, at eight years old, that I would have a career.

Tavis: Well, practice makes perfect. Or they say perfect practice makes perfect. This new CD, “Where You Live,” what makes this – this is number seven?
Chapman: That’s right.

Tavis: What makes this one different from the other six?
Chapman: Well, in some ways the approach to making the CD. We actually made it in a space that I built, actually, in a way. Set up all the equipment, hung the curtains. It was a rehearsal space that we were using, so there was some labor involved in getting things set up.

Tavis: So you were personally invested in this in more ways than one?
Chapman: Very much so, yes. And then we recorded most of it live, kind of similar to the first record, lots of live vocals. And then, you know, I was exploring musically in various ways, and playing lots of different instruments on this record. I played clarinet on the record. I played drums, not the drum set, but percussion.

Tavis: Tell me about the song that you’re going to perform here in a moment, “Change.”
Chapman: Well, it’s a song that’s asking a question, really, about how do we make the best use of the life that we have, you know. And how do we make changes that we often know we need to make but, you know, for some reason can’t get around to it? And sometimes I think it’s extraordinary circumstances that you know, kind of encourage people to get out of their day to day routine and do the thing that they know they need to do.
And it’s, sometimes it’s love, sometimes it’s some sort of spiritual experience, you know. You know, sometimes it’s death even. Sometimes it’s having something traumatic happen that really makes you see, “Oh, I need to adjust here and rethink my life.”

Tavis: Poignant lyrics for such a time as this. And I’m delighted to have Tracy Chapman on this program, and more delighted to have Tracy and the band perform from her new CD, “Where You Live.” The first track, “Change,” in a moment. Tracy, nice to have you here.
Chapman: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Tavis: Stay with us. Tracy and the band in just a second. Good night from Los Angeles. And keep the faith.

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