Inside Folk Music and Feminism: Tracy Chapman


Born in 1964, Tracy Chapman is an American singer-songwriter. Her genres of music include Folk, Pop, and Blues. Chapman mixed Folk music with socially relevant Black experiences. Also, she yearned for a women’s movement and revolutionary change.

Her lyrics were more radical than rap’s most politically conscious songs. Additionally, her anti-video and pop-star looks made her less attractive to mass media outlets. Chapman resists the standards of looks within the recording industry of Black beauty. She abandoned her usual performance garb of formal attire and straightened hair for an Afro, exquisite braided coifs, head wraps, and caftans.


Life was difficult for Chapman, as she was born Black, female, and urban with poor roots. As a result, she expressed her stories, and stories of others, through her music. Her encounters with white privilege and the connection between race and wealth are the material for her folksongs. Her debut album was released in 1988, Tracy Chapman; it was very powerful and includes biting social commentary. In her song “Fast Car,” Chapman documents universal stories of struggle, deprivation, and striving for a better life. Her songs “Subcity” and “Talkin Bout a Revolution” portray the debilitating setbacks the Black community, underclass, face due to their economic standings. Folk music mirrored the existences of helpless Black artists and their everyday encounters.


Chapman’s lyrics were socially relevant. She yearned for revolutionary change and a women’s movement. Therefore, many Black women related to Chapman’s lyrics because Chapman made music that expressed how hard Black women worked for low wages, lining the pockets of wealthy management who profit from their labor. They were, and still are, at a disadvantage.  Moreover, her music is global and played in many parts of the world, for example, in Ghana, West Africa.


As displayed, the true Folk singer in Chapman shines through in several of her songs. Hence, Folk singers tell the multi-faced stories of life for the oppressed with respect, dignity, and truth. 

Works Cited

     Jenkins, Rasheedah Quiett, “The songs of black (women) folk: music, politics, and everyday living” (2008). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 4048.

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