Tracy Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She was raised by her mother, who recognized Tracy's love of music and, despite not having much money, bought her a ukulele when she was just three. Chapman began playing guitar and writing songs at the age of eight. She says that she may have been first inspired to play the guitar by the television show Hee Haw.
Chapman was raised Baptist and went to an Episcopal high school. She was accepted into the program "A Better Chance", which helps minority students attend private schools. She graduated from Wooster School in Connecticut, then attended Tufts University. She graduated with a B.A. degree in anthropology and African studies.