Sometimes, trailblazing works of art take a little longer to get the recognition they deserve. The song “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, originally released in 1988, was just named Song of the Year at the Country Music Awards (CMAs). With this, Chapman has become the first Black person to win this award.
Upon its release 35 years ago, “Fast Car” became an instant classic. It served as the lead single from Chapman's self-titled debut studio album, propelling her to stardom. After performing it at Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute, “Fast Car” peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was nominated for three Grammys and won one, with Chapman taking home the award for the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
So how does a track that's over three decades old earn the Song of the Year award? Fast forward to April 2023, and the iconic song gets a second wind among a new generation of listeners thanks to a cover by singer Luke Combs. The new version reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart and won Single of the Year at the CMAs.
“First and foremost, I want to thank Tracy Chapman for writing one of the best songs of all time,” Combs said in his acceptance speech. “Never intended for that—I just recorded it because I love this song so much. It's meant so much to me throughout my entire life. It's the first favorite song I ever had from the time I was four years old.”
While Chapman didn't attend the ceremony, she sent a written statement that was read by presenter Sara Evans. “I'm sorry I couldn't join you all tonight,” she said. “It's truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut. Thank you to the CMAs and a special thanks to Luke and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.' ”
Whether familiar with the original or Combs' cover, the fact that “Fast Car” has a hold on the public imagination is a testament to Chapman's genius songwriting—a quality that will always transcend generations and trends. You can listen to both versions below.