Why Is Tracy Chapman An African-American Consumerism

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On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave a speech on national television in which he condemned the United States’ growing consumer culture, which, as he suggested, ultimately left people without purpose. The dominance of consumerism led to a society characterized by greed, materialism, visible inequality, and wastefulness. Despite Carter’s warnings, during the 1980s, United States’ society became even more associated with mass-consumption. The flourishing of consumerism also gave rise to counter-voices, and, via cultural expressions, individuals and movements protested against the excess materialism. One of those counter-voices was Tracy Chapman, an African-American singer-songwriter who, during the second half of the 1980s, became a well-known,…show more content…
Growing up, she experienced the hardships of racial discrimination and poverty. She began to play music as a young child, and, because she was a bright student, she was awarded a scholarship to Wooster School, Connecticut, through a minority-placement program. Chapman graduated in 1982 and went off to Tufts University, Boston, where she studied anthropology. Professor of popular music Sheila Whiteley explains that “[t]he combination of a keen musical ear, personal experience of growing up ‘poor, black, working class and female in America,’ and a university education which fostered objectivity and observation would seem an ideal background for a socially conscious musician” (172). Indeed, Chapman often played music as a protest folk singer in clubs and colleges around Boston. A fellow student introduced Chapman to his father, Charles Koppelman, co-owner of SBK Records. He assisted Chapman in signing a record deal with Elektra Records. Chapman’s self-titled debut album, released in 1988, received major commercial success. More than ten million copies were sold. Despite her large-scale popularity in an era in which MTV defined pop culture, Ellerine Diengdoh, professor of English Language and Literature, argues that Chapman “recreated the image of an artist isolated from the sexual imagery associated with music video entertainers popular in that era” (182). Chapman tried to stay true to herself and showed that having success in the music industry was not her goal. Her album addressed problems such as inequality, poverty, and domestic violence. The first song on the album, “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution,” denounces the United States as a nation of inequality and racism, and Chapman looks ahead to a time when “poor people gonna rise up and get their share.” In “Mountains O’ Things,” Chapman again refers to the existing inequality by attacking consumerism and discussing the harmful consequences of

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