On Monday evening, July 15, more than a dozen Long Island musicians, songwriters and performers will gather on stage at The Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow to celebrate the music and legacy of the late Harry Chapin. Since 2004, Stuart Markus, musician and Concert Organizer and many of the other musicians, who are members of the Folk Music Society of Huntington have gathered at the amphitheater renamed in honor of Chapin to perform many of his songs and share their memories of meeting the Long Island singer, Grammy Award winning songwriter, social activist, and founder of Long Island Cares, Inc. who died in 1981 at age 38 in an automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway as he drove to Eisenhower Park to rehearse for a free concert that evening. For the past 15 years, the concert billed as “Just Wild about Harry” has attracted thousands of people to Eisenhower Park and has collected more than 500,000 pounds of donated food to support Long Island Cares, Inc., the regional food bank founded by Harry Chapin and his wife, Sandy in 1980.
For many Long Islanders, Chapin’s death was personal. People knew Harry Chapin. He was one of the most approachable celebrities to walk the streets of downtown Huntington. If you saw him on the street or at a local restaurant, he would engage in conversation with you. There was no ego, no attempt to avoid his fans, Harry Chapin was simply a Long Island musician who made it big in the 1970’s and used his celebrity status and fame to help people in need. Perhaps that’s why Newsday chose Chapin as one of the, “Most Important Long Islanders of the Twentieth Century.”
During his career that began in 1964, Harry Chapin released more than twenty albums that contained hits like Taxi, W.O.L.D., Sunday Morning Sunshine, Circle, and Cat’s in the Cradle. Chapin would have been amused that “Cat’s in the Cradle” had become an iconic song that would be recorded by numerous artists and redefine family relationships for decades to come. Although the music and 220 concerts he performed annually would pay the bills, Chapin would perform half of his concerts for himself and his family, and the other half for charities like, WHY Hunger and Long Island Cares. Chapin the musician and storyteller was also an active humanitarian and social activist whose passion and cause was ending hunger and food insecurity, and in 1980 he and his wife Sandy founded Long Island Cares, Inc. the very first food bank for the Long Island Region which today, I have the honor of serving as its Chief Executive Officer. Chapin was also an active fundraiser who performed concerts, staged special events and often strong-armed corporate and business leaders to support his mission. Very few donors ever said “no” to Harry Chapin, and neither did his fans who would flock to his concerts with donations of food, especially when he performed at local schools and colleges.
Harry Chapin took his fight to end hunger to our nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, and was instrumental in creating the landmark Presidential Commission on Hunger, which he served on with President Carter. Some believed that one day instead of singing outside the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. that, Harry Chapin would serve as a member of Congress. Sadly, we will never know what Chapin would have accomplished between 1981-2019. What we do know is that Harry Chapin left a legacy that has been sustained by his family, fans and the organizations he founded.
Originally published in the HIA-LI Reporter, June 11, 2019