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Eva Cassidy

Eva Cassidy (February 2, 1963 - 1996), an American vocalist who was described by the (London) Guardian newspaper as "one of the greatest voices of her generation". Although possessing a soulful voice, an extraordinary range and a diverse repertoire of jazz, blues, folk, gospel and pop, she still remained virtually unknown outside of her native Washington D.C. at the time of her death from cancer in 1996. However posthumously released recordings have since sold in excess of four million copies, and in early 2001 the compilation album Songbird reached number one on the U.K. album charts.

Eva Cassidy was born February 2, 1963 in the District of Columbia in the U.S.A. The third of four children born to Hugh and Barbara Cassidy, from an early age she displayed exceptional artistic and musical talent. At the age of nine her father bought her a guitar and she began to play at family gatherings with her musical siblings.

As she entered her teens however, Cassidy seemed to be unaware of the depth of her own talent, and never entertained the idea of singing professionally. She did however sing with an amateur band during high school, and received considerable praise. Due to her extreme shyness she struggled with performing in front of strangers.

After high school Cassidy worked as a propagator at a plant nursery and as a furniture painter in Annapolis. In 1986 she met (bassist and recording engineer) Chris Biondo who encouraged her and helped her find work as a backup singer for various acts. In 1990 Biondo convinced Cassidy to form the 5-piece "Eva Cassidy Band" and she began to perform in the Washington D.C. area.

In 1992 Biondo played a tape of Eva to Chuck Brown[?], best known as a "Go-Go" singer, although he is also an accomplished jazz and blues vocalist. This led to the first commercial recording of Cassidy, the duet album "The Other Side", which featured performances of classic songs such as "Fever", Billie Holliday's "God Bless the Child" and Cassidy's signature tune "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".

The independently-released duet CD attracted the attention of various record companies, but the offers all required Cassidy to pigeonholer herself within a single style (eg. pop or jazz), something she adamantly refused to do.

In January 1996 Cassidy recorded the album Live at Blues Alley, about which the Washington Post newspaper later commented "She could sing anything and make it sound like the only music that mattered". Cassidy was unhappy with this recording and promptly began recording a studio album which was eventually released as Eva By Heart in 1997.

It was during a promotional event for this CD in July of 1996 that Cassidy noticed an ache in her hips which she attributed to stiffness from painting a ceiling. The pain persisted and a few weeks later Cassidy was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer. (By the time of her diagnosis, the cancer had spread throughout her body, causing the pain in her hips.)

Cassidy rapidly deteriorated, and her final performance was in September 1996, when, after using a walker to reach the stage, she sang "What a Wonderful World" in front of an audience of friends and admirers. Eva Cassidy died on November 2, 1996, at the age of 33.

In 1998 a compilation of tracks from Cassidy's three released recordings was assembled into the CD Songbird. This CD lingered in obscurity for a few years until being given airplay on the BBC. In 2001 both the album and the single "Fields of Gold" reached number one status in the U.K. Sting, the songwriter for "Fields of Gold" was reported moved to tears when he heard Cassidy's version of this song [1] (http://www.imaginenews.com/Archive/2000/Jun_2000/Text/FEAT05.htm). The Songbird CD also achieved significant chart success throughout Europe and has achieved gold status in the U.S.

Since then two further compilations have been released, Time After Time (2000) and Imagine (2002). In 2001 a book was released on the life and work of Cassidy, based on interviews with close family and associates. The hardback edition has since sold in excess of 100,000 copies. The book is not yet published in the U.S.

In March 2001 the ABC's "Nightline" (US) broadcast a well-received short documentary about Eva Cassidy. A similar broadcast occurred on ITV's "Tonight with Trevor McDonald" (UK) in May 2001.

In 2002, figure skater Michelle Kwan brought Cassidy's music to a new audience when she skated to Eva's recording of "Fields of Gold" at the Winter Olympics gala (and then later on tour during the northern summer of 2002).

During Eva Cassidy's performing and recording career she was accompanied by a core group of musicians:

  • Keith Grimes, guitar;
  • Lenny Williams, keyboard;
  • Chris Biondo, bass; and
  • Raice McLeod, drums.

See also:
The Eva Cassidy Website, a non-commercial site maintained by Eva's cousin,Laura Bligh, with numerous articles, links, and images (http://www.evacassidy.org)
August 2002 New York Times article on Eva Cassidy (http://www.iht.com/articles/67662)
Washingtonian Magazine's May 2001 article on Cassidy (http://www.washingtonian.com/people/evacassidy)

Discography

  • The Other Side (1992) with Chuck Brown
  • Live at Blues Alley (1996)
  • Eva By Heart(1996) - Eva's only studio album
  • Songbird (1998) - A compilation of tracks from the previous three albums
  • Time After Time (2000)
  • Imagine (2002)



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