Tracy Chapman, the folk-pop singer-songwriter who flew to stardom atop her hit 1988 song, “Fast Car”, has officially won the 2023 Country Music Awards (CMA) Song of the Year title for… her 1988 hit song, “Fast Car”. Per The New York Times, the recognition makes her the first Black songwriter to take home the award.

“Fast Car” was a major hit when it was first released by Chapman on her 6x-Platinum self-titled debut album, earning her a 1989 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance as well as nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. In 2023, the song found new life on country radio when a largely true-to-the-original cover recorded by Luke Combs soared to the top of the Billboard Country Airplay chart. Combs earned himself a Record of the Year CMA for the cover, which he released as the second single from his 2023 LP, Gettin’ Old.

Tracy Chapman has said very little about the massive success of the Luke Combs “Fast Car” cover. In July, after Combs’ “Fast Car” single hit #1, she had this to say in a short statement to Billboard: “I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there. I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’”

Tracy Chapman did not attend the CMA Awards ceremony on Wednesday night at Nashville, TN’s Bridgestone Arena, opting instead to send a statement that was largely the same as her first: “I’m sorry I couldn’t join you all tonight. It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut. Thank you to the CMAs and a special thanks to Luke and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.””

Tracy Chapman Wins the 2023 CMA Award for Song of the Year 

In a separate Billboard article, Combs’ manager, Chris Kappy, explained that the song had been a staple of Luke’s live shows for several years and that fans had been clamoring for a studio version. “The demand from our fans has been rabid for ‘Fast Car’ since he first released a snippet of it more than six years ago,” Kappy said. “We also felt that it would help draw non-country fans into the genre and experience the wonder that is country music.”

Combs opted not to tweak Chapman’s original version in any significant way, even keeping one particular gendered lyric female. Kappy added that “[Neither] Luke, nor I, have spoken directly to Tracy. This is her song and we were going to live within any parameters she had for her song. We are just happy we were able to release it and see the response of fans enjoying it.”

The whole thing is a little strange, to be sure. It’s hard to know how we feel about some of the layers here—the fact that Combs released a cover as a single at all, the fact that it became the year’s biggest song in a famously exclusive corner of the music industry, the fact that a white man is gaining awards and acclaim from the work of a Black woman, the fact that Tracy Chapman is somehow the most significant country songwriter of the 2023 thanks to a non-country song she wrote 35 years ago—let alone how Tracy might feel about the phenomenon (that is, beyond her two notably surface-level comments).

But hey, people like it, and Chapman is sharing in the success of Combs’ cover, too, so I guess it’s just one of those things. Anyway… congrats, Tracy Chapman! Watch the official music video for the original “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman as well as a live rendition by Luke Combs below.

Tracy Chapman – “Fast Car” (Official Music Video)

Luke Combs – “Fast Car” (Tracy Chapman)