Singer With Ties To City Holds Special Family Connection

FILE - In this file photo of Aug. 13, 1980 at a political fundraiser, from left, Ralph Nader, Mark Green, Gilda Radner and Harry Chapin, pose for a photo at the in the Empire State Building New York. Before there was Band Aid or Live Aid, a We Are the World or Hands Across America, there was singer-songwriter Harry Chapin - lobbying for change in Congress, pestering an already convinced President Carter to establish a commission on world hunger, and passing the hat for donations at concerts large and small. (AP Photo/Nancy Kaye, File)

Editor’s note: John D. D’Agostino, the editor’s father, died Nov. 8, 2022. This column, which was first published on Oct. 3, 2014, is in his memory.

Growing up in Geneva in the Finger Lakes as a youngster, there was not a lot of variety in our household when it came to music. We had one choice: Harry Chapin.

If our family was going to a concert, there was no discussion. It was Harry Chapin.

How lucky we were.

Each of Chapin’s songs, most from the 1970s, provide a story. His most famous single that went to No. 1 was “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s a story that plays out in today’s society – a dad and son who cannot make time for each other. “W.O.L.D.” is a story of a journeyman disc jockey. “Taxi” tells about a cab driver who picks up a former lover and the different paths their lives have gone.

All of his record albums were cherished in our home – and played just about every day and throughout the weekends.

Chapin had one more famous trait. The man who made millions doing something he loved always found a way to give back – to his fans and those less fortunate. Many of those concerts we attended – in Syracuse and Rochester – were used to support his charity.

In 1975, he co-founded World Hunger Year with radio personality and current executive director Bill Ayers. It continues today under the name of WhyHunger, which has a mission statement of “building the movement to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment.”

Of the more than $3 million raised by the organization in 2013, 92 percent of its expenses went directly to its program work to fulfill its mission. That’s an excellent record for any charity.

WhyHunger’s persistence and visibility is a testament to Chapin, whose life ended tragically at 38 on July 16, 1981, in an automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway. He was, of all things, on his way to perform at a free concert that day.

Tonight, Jamestown will celebrate the musician – as well as his continuing legacy. “Harry Chapin: A Family Celebration” begins at 8 and includes members of his family and the band. According to a news release from the Reg Lenna Theater, it was a promise he made one month before he died: he would return to the city for a fund-raiser if the community would commit to restoring the then-deteriorating former Palace Theater.

So bad was the condition of the facility, Chapin and the audience, some with umbrellas handy, were rained on during the performance.

No wonder it was the first live performance held at the facility in 25 years.

Kathleen Eads, executive director at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, saw a poster regarding Chapin’s performance at the Palace after beginning the job in January. Her husband, an actor who has an association with the Chapin family, reached out to see if the family and band members had any interest in taking part in an event in Jamestown.

“They were all really excited to come and do a concert,” she said.

Besides music, there also will be video interviews from those who attended that 1981 concert as well as clips from Jamestown leaders and business people on what the Reg Lenna Center means to them. “It’s about how the community came together to resurrect a theater,” Eads said.

My parents, who celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary last month, loved the man and his music. They, like Eads, also loved what he was able to accomplish.

“He was a great example of using fame for the betterment of the world,” she said. “Before he died he was doing (numerous) free concerts each year.”

As a tribute to Chapin, a food drive continues through Saturday at the center. All donations will go to the St. Susan’s Center in Jamestown, the south county’s major food pantry.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.


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