scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Behind the scenes

Singer and food activist to perform at Hull pantry benefit

Jen Chapin will perform in Hull on Sunday.Nathan James Leatherman

After studying international relations at Brown and looking toward a career in international development, Jen Chapin felt an urge to explore her love for music. The band she had sung with in college broke up, and she found herself missing the outlet it provided for her creative and performance energies. Maybe a year or so at Berklee College of Music would be a way to satisfy her love for music, she thought, before getting back on a career track.

But the turn to music became a career. Following the release of her latest album of original material, “Reckonings,” Chapin is performing a benefit for the Wellspring Food Pantry at the Hull Yacht Club on Sunday.


In retrospect, it should not be surprising that the daughter of Harry Chapin, regarded as one of the great storytellers in popular music, should become a singer-songwriter herself. Or that she should be a food justice activist like her father.

“I decided to dig in a little more,” Chapin said from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week of her decision to go to Berklee. “At least in hindsight, it’s a clear trajectory. I always loved music and singing. I didn’t realize I had the fire in my belly for it.”

She thought she would work in development or teach and “sing in a blues band on the side,” Chapin said, before she started studies at Berklee.

“That’s the great thing about Berklee,” she said. “They had all the facilities. People connect and try to make music together.”

Founded in a storefront 30 years ago by a local minister, Wellspring has grown into a community center that serves not only as a food pantry for local families but also as a service provider and referral center for a host of needs such as housing, health care, crisis counseling, and coping with a disability.


The nonprofit’s building at 814 Nantasket Ave. also has a thrift shop and a used book store. It provides an array of adult education services as well, including GED and basic education programs, awarding more than 250 certifications in recent years. The food pantry serves some 700 families and 3,500 individuals annually. Clients received more than 118,000 meals two years ago, and Wellspring also works with the Hull schools to provide more than 650 meals for school-aged children during the summer.

Reviewers have sometimes compared Jen Chapin’s work with her father’s.

Her music “ranges from tender fragility to unexpected steeliness,” The New Yorker said. “Chapin brings a jazzy edge to the folk form. Sometimes she explores a fleeting emotion, sometimes she weaves a solid narrative — not at all surprising from the daughter of Harry Chapin, a master musical storyteller.”

Harry Chapin, who died in an auto accident in 1981, was famous for his number-one hit “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” one of the best-loved songs of the ’70s, and ballads such as “’Taxi,” “Sniper,” and “Flowers Are Red.”

Equally important for Jen Chapin was his championing of food support efforts both internationally and in the United States. He cofounded WhyHunger, a grass-roots organization building a movement to end hunger and poverty in 1975. He helped create a presidential commission on world hunger during the Carter years and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work.

Today Jen Chapin is president of the board of directors for WhyHunger.


“The cool thing since its founding has been a synergy with music,” she said of the nonprofit. “We have a program called ‘Artists Against Hunger and Poverty.’ ” Members include Bruce Springsteen. “The real crux is support for grass-roots organization. Food programs used to be cast-offs from supermarkets, soup kitchens, food banks. Now people are looking at diabetes, nutritional toxic stress, a more holistic view, a view of how low-income people struggle not just to get enough food as get the wrong food. It’s the American kind of malnutrition.”

“Art is absolutely incredible for democratic dialogue,” she said. “Telling the truth about who we are, about our shared values.”

Chapin tells the truth in her album “Reckoning” in songs such as “Feed Your Baby.” Its lyrics include: “Patience goes to the 95-minute bus trip/ 30-hour week — I wish they’d give me more/ and I wonder what it’s all for/ when I can’t feed my baby no more.”

Ironically, she points out, those who suffer from lack of food or bad nutrition are often food industry workers such as fast-food restaurant employees.

Chapin released her first recording 12 years ago. Her work has been widely praised for its mingling of jazz, folk, and pop styles, its contemporary edge, and narrative strength. The original songs on “Reckoning” have drawn comparisons to Ani DiFranco, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, and contemporary songwriter St. Vincent.

She performs with a band that includes her husband, Stephan Crump, on bass, and between gigs at home in Brooklyn picks up her son from kindergarten.


Robert Knox can be reached at