‘Fast Car’ songwriter Tracy Chapman felt she could be someone. At CMA Awards, she was a historic winner

A woman with long dreadlocks wearing a black long sleeve shirt singing into a microphone while a guitar hangs on her body
Tracy Chapman’s song “Fast Car” won song of the year at the 2023 CMA Awards on Wednesday.
(Martial Trezzini / Associated Press)
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Tracy Chapman’s hit song “Fast Car” received its flowers in the country music space, more than 30 years after its release.

“Fast Car,” which Chapman first released in 1988, took home the prize for song of the year at the 2023 Country Music Assn. Awards held Wednesday at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Chapman became the first Black person to win the category in the award show’s 57-year history.

Chapman did not attend Wednesday’s ceremony, but accepted the prize in a message read by presenters Bill Anderson and Sara Evans.


“It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut,” Evans read. “A special thanks to Luke [Combs] and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.’”

Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ is again topping the charts with Luke Combs’ cover of the song, which made Chapman the first Black woman with a sole songwriting credit on a No. 1 country song.

July 7, 2023

“Fast Car” was one of 11 tracks featured on Chapman’s self-titled debut album in 1988. Four years after the album’s release, The Times described “Fast Car” as a “brilliant melding of social commentary with a deeply personal character portrait.”

At the 31st Grammy Awards in 1989, Chapman took home three golden gramophones, including one for pop vocal performance, female, for “Fast Car.” Chapman also has Grammy awards for the best new artist, contemporary folk recording and rock song categories.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, Chapman wasn’t the only musician getting an honor for “Fast Car.” Country star Combs won the category for single of the year for his take on the Chapman hit. During his acceptance speech, Combs thanked Chapman “for writing one of the best songs of all time.”

Luke Combs in a suit smiling and looking to his side while holding a pointy, clear award
Luke Combs won single of the year at the 2023 CMA Awards for his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.”
(Evan Agostini / Invision / Associated Press)

“I just recorded it because I love this song so much, it’s meant so much to me throughout my entire life, it’s my first favorite song that I’ve ever had from the time I was 4 years old,” he said on the Bridgestone stage.


Combs’ “Fast Car” cover brought new life to the single 35 years after its debut. In July, the country singer’s version topped Billboard charts, helping Chapman reach a new milestone. Combs’ “Fast Car” cover became the first song with a Black woman “as the sole writer” to top Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, according to the music magazine.

Combs’ version generated more than $500,000 in publishing royalties globally since its March 17 release, according to a Billboard estimate from July. And Chapman, the sole songwriter and owner of the publishing rights, reportedly raked in a significant portion.

The offer of hope to the downtrodden is a standard plank in the protest singer’s platform, and a quiet flame of protest certainly burns through much of Tracy Chapman’s work.

Sept. 17, 1992

According to the magazine, most of the royalties stem from the more than 154 million U.S. on-demand audio streams from music apps including Spotify and Apple Music. “Fast Car” also surpassed 6 million video streams and 28 million programmed audio streams in the United States.

“I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there,” Chapman told Billboard in July.

In May, Combs revealed his version (which landed on The Times’ list of the 40 best songs of 2023) was the result of his time listening to music on a cassette player in his father’s truck.

“I always think about my dad when it comes on and us spending time together,” he said. “As soon as I could play guitar, I tried to learn how to play this song.”


Combs and Chapman were a sampling of the country music stars taking home prizes at Wednesday’s ceremony. Lainey Wilson, the ceremony’s most-nominated artist, won five categories including entertainer of the year. Chris Stapleton, Old Dominion, Hardy and Jelly Roll were also among the night’s winners.

Times staff writer Emily St. Martin contributed to this report.