Before They Were Famous: Tracy Chapman on WUMB in 1985


WUMB’s Tracy Chapman Interview + Live Performance

The first ever radio interview that Tracy gave has just been published online by NPR and this is a piece of history for any Tracy Chapman music fan! Listen here: Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3

WUMB’s Live Performances

WUMB’s live performances in the early years were in our program “Circles In The Stream”. . . a place in our busy lives where we could all meet and share a few calm moments of inspiration and celebration away from the hectic flow of our busy lives. Many up-and-coming writers and musicians shared their musical visions with us, and we all watched with joy as many of these artists went on to become important creative forces over the subsequent years. Richard Reinhert was the host in those days, and Richard had a way of making the microphones seem to disappear, allowing the artists to be in a quiet place from which they felt comfortable to share some of their innermost thoughts and motivations.

WUMB’s Tracy Chapman Interview Part 1 – Listen here

When Tracy Chapman walked through our doors on Friday afternoon, November 15, 1985, and Richard began the interview, it became clear that something very special was happening on the other side of the studio glass. Tracy had never recorded an album, or done a radio interview before, but was still composed, confident and comfortable.

WUMB used lots of reel-to-reel recording tape in those days to capture moments such as these for posterity. We couldn’t afford to buy new tape, so these recordings were made on second-hand tape, donated by such organizations as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and local commercial broadcasters. Now, more than 25 years later, the less-than-perfect recording quality gives these performances a filtered-through-stained-glass effect. You can imagine that, before being erased to record Tracy’s visit, this tape may have contained whale song or dolphin speech!

In the entire three-part series, the segment you’re currently listening to being Part One, Tracy reminisces about her childhood, her early days developing her unique guitar styles and writing songs, life at Tufts University, and her experiences busking in the underground “T” stations and on the streets of Cambridge. Tracy shares here concerns about apartheid in South Africa and describes her involvements with other young people doing what they could to promote change, and brings it all to life in performances of her wide-ranging, insightful lyrics.

WUMB’s Tracy Chapman Interview Part 2 – Listen here

In this second segment of WUMB’s Tracy Chapman interview, Tracy talks about her earliest fascination with music, first influenced by her mother, and then in high school. She relates how she found her way to Boston, and her earliest writings.

We get to hear one of her signature songs that reveals her early determination and the approach to life that has taken her where she is today, and she gives us in vibrant detail her experiences playing in New England, from street performing to busking in the underground, in coffeehouses and in talent shows at Tufts University. It’s a wide-ranging discussion that will captivate your attention.

WUMB’s Tracy Chapman Interview Part 3 – Listen here

In this closing segment of WUMB’s Tracy Chapman interview, Tracy describes how her career and reputation were growing at the time, and a Boston Globe Arts section article about her that had recently appeared. The conversation turns to segregation and discrimination in America, and how it has informed some of her writing, which leads into a hearfelt discussion about apartheid in South Africa and her involvement in social activities promoting change. She even describes her approach to songwriting, and showcases her strong, confident voice in a powerful a capella performance.

How did the interview happened? from NPR Blog

One singer-songwriter Reinert discovered at a folk festival and interviewed that year was Tracy Chapman, now a Grammy Award-winning artist known for singles such as “Fast Car” and “Give Me One Reason.”
Barely into her 20s, and about three years before her first album would be released, Chapman caught Reinert’s ear, and he invited her to come on his show, which turned out to be Chapman’s first ever radio interview.
“I didn’t remember any of the details of the interview,” Reinert said after listening to his interview with Chapman recently. “Except for her music.”
It’s not surprising that Reinert’s strongest memory of his interview with Chapman is her music. Even after nearly three decades, her voice remains powerful. It’s emotional. Listening to her then gives you the sense that she’s really been that great all along and was only waiting for the world to wake up and realize her talent.
Occasionally over the years, Monteith thought about the Chapman interview but never got around to listening to it again even when the station digitized the audio several years ago.
Then when she was thinking about how WUMB could participate in Public Radio Music Month, Monteith knew the Chapman interview needed to be resurfaced for a new generation of public radio and music lovers to experience.
So, Monteith got up from her desk, and in five minutes was able to pull the audio of the Chapman interview from the station’s archives.
It might sound like a simple task, but finding such a gem among 3,000 pieces of audio in the station’s archives in such a short amount of time would have been impossible for Monteith just a few years ago.
WUMB received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of the American Archive Inventory Project. The funds allowed the station to hire someone to inventory all their reels of audio and properly archive and preserve them in cold storage.
“If it wasn’t for this project and this grant, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to find this audio so quickly,” Monteith says. “I really have to credit CPB for helping us take care of our archives.”
Even before Monteith played the Chapman interview again, she says she could sense she was holding a bit of history in her hands.
“To hear musicians in their own words, it’s an emotional connection you can hear in their voice,” she says of the anticipation. “It’s so powerful and meaningful.”
It’s the live interview and live music that Monteith loves so much.
“You can never capture again the uniqueness of a live interview or live music. Unless you record it,” Monteith says. “Radio gives us a chance to hear a one of a kind experience.”
Today, April 30, WUMB posted Reinert’s interview with Chapman on their website so many more people can listen to the beginnings of this very talented artist.
In the process of asking Chapman for approval to re-broadcast her interview, Chapman called Monteith personally.
“I told her how great I thought the interview was and how she seemed so self-aware and a very young age,” she said. “She seemed genuinely appreciated and humbled by the kind words.”
“It was a conversation I’ll never forget,” Monteith said.
Much like Chapman’s first radio interview in 1985.


  1. Thank you so, so much for posting this. It’s simply breath taking. Sure, the quality is not perfect, but that makes it more amazing. I’ve been waiting for some recent news about Tracy, and this is reassuring somehow. I have just a few questions, of which the answers I would give anything for. Firstly, where is Tracy now? Has she ‘left’ the music business? I mean, will she be doing any more tours, or producing any more music?

    I understand Tracy is not the youngest any more, and it has been a long time. But this interview anyway, brings a tear to my eye and makes me smile inside.

  2. Tracy, your music sounds like experiences from life and the heart. Love your music. I have poetry/lyrics that I would love for you to put to your sounding music. I would feel very honored if you liked them and could use them. Please contact me at

  3. Tracy! I really wish you would continue touring! Please come down to Miami. My dad and I are your biggest fans! Your music really speaks to us! I would love to take him to one of your concerts!

  4. O Tracy, O Tracy where art thou? You have been quiet for too long. I spent all day today listening to your music. Its my refuge when I want to still my mind and my soul. You are my all-time favourite musician. One of my bucket list items is to listen to you live. There’s nothing on your website about new tours since 2008. Any chance you can tour Africa and Kenya specifically? You have die-hard fans. You are missed!