In a major coup for the Grammys, an influential artist who walked away from the spotlight made a grand return to the awards stage on Sunday night: Tracy Chapman.
Chapman, 59, released eight albums between 1988 and 2008, starting with her blockbuster debut — the self-titled album that featured “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” “Baby Can I Hold You” and what is perhaps her signature song, “Fast Car.” She won the Grammy for best new artist in 1989, and “Fast Car” was nominated for both record and song of the year.
While the song has had notable staying power — it’s inspired dance covers, was sampled by Nicki Minaj and has been strummed in dorm rooms for decades — the country star Luke Combs’s faithful cover, which became a hit last year, has helped bring it a kind of renaissance.
On Sunday night in Los Angeles, Chapman and Combs shared the steering wheel at the Grammys with their first-ever duet performance of the track. Chapman opened the performance playing the song’s signature riff on an acoustic guitar, as her and Combs exchanged verses before joining together on the chorus. Many in the audience could be seen standing and singing along throughout, including Taylor Swift. Combs bowed to her at the conclusion of the song as they received a standing ovation from those in the arena.
Combs’s “Fast Car” — which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single from his 2023 album, “Gettin’ Old” — was up for a Grammy for best country solo performance (and lost to Chris Stapleton’s “White Horse”). Surprising many in the industry, however, “Fast Car” missed out on a nomination for record of the year. (The cover was not eligible for song of the year, an award that goes to songwriters, because it was already nominated in that category in 1989.)
Chapman has made few public appearances since her most recent tour ended in 2009, mostly taking the stage on late-night shows. In 2015, she covered “Stand by Me” as David Letterman prepared to retire from the “Late Show,” and in the lead-up to the 2020 election, she performed “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution” on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
Combs’s meticulously faithful take on Chapman’s working-class anthem, delivered with unassuming earnestness, has crossed eras like a time-traveling DeLorean. In November, thanks to the cover, Chapman won song of the year at the Country Music Awards for “Fast Car,” becoming the first Black songwriter to clinch the honor.
In a statement at the time, Chapman apologized for not attending the country awards ceremony in Nashville. “It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut,” she said in the statement.
Combs described “Fast Car” as “one of the best songs of all time,” in his own C.M.A.s acceptance speech for single of the year. “I just recorded it because I love this song so much,” he added. “It’s meant so much to me throughout my entire life.”
The original “Fast Car” hit No. 6 on the Hot 100 in 1988 and earned three Grammy nominations. Chapman won for best female pop vocalist at the 1989 Grammy ceremony. There, too, she performed “Fast Car.”
“Fast Car” was a fan-favorite staple of Combs’s live shows long before he recorded it in the studio. Asked in July about the potential to duet on the song with Chapman, Combs’s manager, Chris Kappy, told Billboard, “We would be more than excited if the opportunity arose for Tracy and Luke to perform the song together.”
At the same time, Chapman told Billboard that she was “happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’”
First appeared on www.nytimes.com