Nine years since her last live television performance, Tracy Chapman made a rare appearance at the 2024 Grammy Awards to sing her 1988 hit “Fast Car” with Luke Combs, the country star who turned a new audience onto Chapman’s song with his cover version and earned a Grammy nomination in the process.
In a video before the performance, Combs talked about the song’s memorable opening guitar lick, a snippet that expertly telegraphed the performance that was to come: A tight shot on Chapman’s hands playing her acoustic guitar slowly moved up to reveal her face and a broad grin. Chapman took the first verse, before Combs — standing at a microphone without a guitar — joined in with his verse and a big smile of his own.
It was an undeniably emotional and moving performance, for those onstage and those in the audience. Taylor Swift stood and sang along. Brandi Carlile and her wife Catherine held each other and swayed. And the husband-and-wife duo the War and Treaty pumped their fists.
Chapman and Combs sang the final chorus together, before Combs ceded the last verse to the woman who wrote the song. The country star watched her intently, mouthing the words under his breath, before bowing to Chapman when “Fast Car” reached its destination.
The performance of “Fast Car,” which featured two of the musicians who played on the original studio recording — drummer Denny Fongheiser and bassist Larry Klein — arrives 35 years to the month since Chapman first performed the song at the Grammy Awards in 1989.
Chapman last performed live on television back in 2015 when she sang “Stand By Me” on the Late Show With David Letterman during the host’s final run of shows on CBS. Since then, the songwriter has been all but reclusive. (In 2020, she delivered a pretaped performance of “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution” on Seth Meyers to encourage voter turnout.)
In 2020, Combs posted a video that featured him playing a solo acoustic cover of “Fast Car.” The rendition caught fire with his fans and he recorded a studio version to include on his 2023 album Gettin’ Old. Released as a radio single in April of that year, “Fast Car” exploded and hit Number Two on the Hot 100. It also became a multi-week Number One on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart — making Chapman the first-ever Black woman to have the sole songwriting credit on a Number One country hit.
Combs’ version of “Fast Car” won Song of the Year at November’s CMA Awards in Nashville, earning Chapman another place in history: the first Black songwriter, male or female, to win the CMA for Song of the Year in CMA history. Chapman sent a statement to be read then. “I’m sorry I couldn’t join you all tonight,” Chapman wrote. “It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut. Thank you to the CMAs and a special thanks to Luke and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.’”
Onstage Sunday night in L.A., Chapman didn’t speak or read any remarks. But she didn’t need to: her appearance alone — and that smile — spoke volumes.
Music Country – Rolling Stone