Nearly 40 Years Later, the World is Still Talking About Harry Chapin
On July 16, 2020 Long Island Cares, Inc. along with fans across the world will pause to reflect on the exact day that the singer, Grammy Award winning songwriter and social activist Harry Chapin died in a fiery automobile crash on July 16, 1981 on the Long Island Expressway on his way to perform a free concert in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. At age 38, and in the prime of his music career with numerous albums, Top 40 singles, and two stage plays, Chapin performed more than 200 concerts a year, with half of them to benefit local charities including, Long Island Cares, WHY Hunger, and the Huntington Performing Arts Foundation.
In the nearly four decades since Chapin’s death, the organizations that he and his wife Sandy founded are continuing to live up to Chapin’s expectations of calling attention to the plight of the hungry which he saw as, “The shame of America,” and the regional food bank they started to focus attention on local hunger and food insecurity in one of the wealthiest regions in our country. As the catalyst for the first and only Presidential Commission on Hunger under the administration of former President Jimmy Carter, Harry Chapin was a fixture in our nation’s capital where he advocated for sound social policies and increased federal funding to respond to the crisis of world and domestic hunger. The work of the Presidential Commission ended with Carter’s defeat to former President Ronald Reagan but, not Chapin’s legacy.
Today, with the Covid-19 pandemic turning our world upside down, the work of our nation’s food banks including, the work of Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank are recognized as essential services. The root causes of hunger that are deeply engrained in poverty, unemployment, and social injustice have become more visible as millions of people have had to place their lives and livelihoods on pause. Hunger is once again on our political “to-do” list in Washington, New York State, and on Long Island with record amounts of donations being provided to food banks by government, foundations, corporations and generous individual donors. For many donors across America, the connection between hunger, poverty, social injustice and now a global pandemic has become crystal clear. It’s what Harry Chapin tried to explain to anyone that would listen during his brief but shining career.
Now, forty-years since his death on the Long Island Expressway, the world is talking about Harry Chapin from Huntington, Long Island. Most recently, author Michael Francis Taylor published his book, “Harry Chapin: The Music Behind the Man,” (Newhaven Publishing, 2019) that analyzes Chapin’s stories through is lyrics and the deep meaning of his words reflecting on life and all that comes with growing up. The book also describes Chapin’s passion towards ending hunger with several references to both WHY Hunger and Long Island Cares. This coming October, a new documentary about Harry Chapin’s philanthropy work will be released initially virtually and then through wide release. The film also focuses on the work of Long Island Cares and WHY Hunger. And, if a book and a film isn’t enough, a new stage play is in the works that will bring Chapin’s music and message to off-Broadway to benefit the two organizations that were near and dear to Harry’s heart. Not many people are talked about forty-years after they’ve gone but, Harry Chapin’s life had meaning and he transcended far past his stories and songs, leaving behind a legacy that all of us at Long Island Cares are proud to share.
Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, June, 2020