Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and other fans of the music and legacy of Harry Chapin honored the late singer-songwriter on September 2nd ahead of this year’s “Just Wild About Harry” concert and food drive (which has since been postponed a second time, to September 12, due to weather).
Blakeman joined county programs staff and Long Island Cares leaders at the Harry Chapin Auditorium for a press conference at Eisenhower Park’s Harry Chapin Auditorium along with Jason Chapin, Harry Chapin’s stepson, and Stuart Markus, organizer of the annual tribute concert.
Blakeman announced that henceforth, in Nassau County, September 1, or National Food Bank Day, will also be known as Harry Chapin Day; legislators in Suffolk County passed a similar bill last year, and leaders in Nassau put forth their version this past spring.
Blakeman said his favorite Chapin songs included “Cat’s in the Cradle” and “Taxi,” and praised the musician and philanthropist, who died in a car accident in 1981 at the age of 38 on the Long Island Expressway on his way to a concert at Eisenhower Park. The County Executive almost immediately began singing along with Markus when he played “Circle,” as did Long Island Cares CEO Paule Pachter; by the end of the song, one of the hits from Chapin’s 1972 album Sniper and Other Love Songs, Blakeman and Jason Chapin were leaning in on the harmonies.
Chapin was “a real guy,” Blakeman told assembled press and county staff.
Pachter also addressed the previously announced focus of the press conference, that the Long Island Cares Harry Chapin Food Bank has seen an uptick in demand from local residents. Pachter said that around 4000 people a month were coming to their Freeport satellite location this summer, while around 700, mostly seniors, took advantage of their Bethpage location to get enough to eat. A Valley Stream satellite location of the Harry Chapin Food Bank is also coming, he said.
Chapin co-founded the organization World Hunger Year with radio personality Bill Ayres.
According to his widow and collaborator, Sandra Chapin, “He always said, ‘Money is for people,’ so he gave it away.”
Their daughter Jen Chapin told the Boston Globe in 2004, “He saw hunger and poverty as an insult to America.”
Born in New York City, Harry Chapin graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1960, and briefly attended the United States Air Force Academy and Cornell University. After early work in film, Chapin dedicated himself to music, and found widespread success in the early- to mid-1970s with several hit albums.
Chapin’s life in and dedication to Long Island, and to addressing world poverty and hunger, grew alongside his family in the years leading up to his untimely death. Following his death, Chapin’s widow sued the manufacturer of her husband’s car and of the truck that struck him, as well as the related food distributor. The Harry Chapin Foundation was created in his honor.