Tracy Chapman, a famous singer who had stepped away from the limelight, made a triumphant comeback to the Grammy Awards stage on Sunday night.
Chapman, 59, recorded eight albums between 1988 and 2008, beginning with her smash debut — the self-titled album that contained “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” “Baby Can I Hold You” and what is possibly her hallmark tune, “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 noteworthy staying power — it’s inspired dance remixes, was sampled by Nicki Minaj and has been strummed in dorm rooms for decades — the country artist Luke Combs’s faithful interpretation, which became a success last year, has helped bring it a sort of revival.
On Sunday night in Los Angeles, Chapman and Combs shared the steering wheel at the Grammys with their first-ever duet performance of the hit. Chapman commenced the performance playing the song’s characteristic riff on an acoustic guitar, while her and Combs alternated lines before coming together on the chorus. Many people in the crowd, including Taylor Swift, stood up and sang along the whole time. Combs bowed to her at the end of the song, prompting a standing ovation from the audience.
Combs’ “Fast Car,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single from his 2023 album “Gettin’ Old,” was nominated for a Grammy for best country solo performance. Many in the industry were surprised to learn that “Fast Car” did not get a nomination for record of the year. (The cover was ineligible for song of the year, an honor given to composers, since it was already nominated in 1989.)
Since the completion of her most recent tour in 2009, Chapman has made few public appearances, usually on late-night programs. In 2015, she covered “Stand by Me” as David Letterman prepared to leave the “Late Show,” and in the run-up to the 2020 election, she sang “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution” on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
Combs’ impeccably authentic rendition of Chapman’s working-class song, delivered with simple sincerity, has transcended generations like a time-traveling DeLorean. Chapman won song of the year at the Country Music Awards in November for “Fast Car,” becoming the first Black composer to do so.
Chapman apologized in a statement at the time for missing the country music awards event in Nashville. “It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut,” she added in the statement.
In his victory speech for single of the year, Combs referred to “Fast Car” as “one of the best songs of all time.” “I just recorded it because I love this song so much,” he said. “It’s meant so much to me throughout my entire life.”
The original “Fast Car” reached No. 6 on the Hot 100 in 1988 and received three Grammy nominations. Chapman won best female pop singer at the 1989 Grammy Awards. There, she also performed “Fast Car.”
“Fast Car” was a crowd favorite during Combs’ live gigs even before it was recorded in the studio. When asked in July about a possible duet with Chapman, Combs’ 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 she was “happy for Luke and his success, and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’”