This coming December 7th Harry Chapin would have celebrated his 75th birthday. Thirty-six years have gone by since July 16, 1981 when Chapin at 38 years old lost his life in an automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway in Westbury as thousands of fans waited for him in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow where, he was to perform a free concert that evening. 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 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 a dozen 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 define family relationships for decades to come. Although the music and concerts would pay the bills, Chapin would perform half of his concerts for himself and his family, and the other half for charity. Chapin the musician and storyteller was also an active humanitarian and social activist whose 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. With grants from New York State and Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Long Island Cares began its work on the grounds of Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in two buildings provided by the State of New York. 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 nation’s capital Washington, D.C. during the Carter Administration and was instrumental in creating the landmark Presidential Commission on Hunger, which he served on with President Jimmy Carter. Some believed that one day instead of singing outside the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. that, Harry Chapin would one day serve as a member of Congress. Sadly, we’ll never know what Chapin would have accomplished by the time he turned 75. What we do know is that Harry Chapin left a legacy that has been sustained by his family, fans and the organizations he founded. To learn more about how Long Island Cares is commemorating Harry Chapin’s 75th Birthday, log onto www.licares.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Published in The HIA-LI Reporter, December, 2017