Eva Cassidy was born 2 February 1963. Growing up in a musical family on the outskirts of Washington, DC, she sang as a small child and later learned to play the guitar. Even then as a child she had an amazing gift for perfect harmony, and on family outings, she would sing, harmonising perfectly with the music from the car radio. Her father, a teacher of children with learning disabilities and a part-time musician, formed a family band with Eva, her brother Danny, on violin, and himself on bass. She endured school, preferring her own company and, whenever possible, being involved with music and painting.
In 1986 she did the art work for a projected album by a band, Method Actor, led by a friend, Dave Lourim. She was asked to sing on the album and was heard by producer Chris Biondo who, impressed by her raw talent, encouraged her and introduced her to other musicians. Cassidy appeared on several albums as a backing singer, including E-40’s I Wanna Thank You. Meantime, Biondo was stockpiling tapes by Cassidy and in 1991, while recording Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers, played examples for the group’s leader. Brown was immediately taken with her sound, as indeed would be other artists including Roberta Flack and Shirley Horn, and in 1992 Eva and Chuck recorded The Other Side (Liaison).
Early the following year Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy began performing live, including an appearance at Washington’s Blues Alley. The collaboration with Chuck Brown was one which Eva would value very highly. They performed well together. seem to blend instinctively, and they respected and admired each other as artists.
Later in the year, following a medical check-up, Eva Cassidy had outpatient surgery for a malignant skin lesion on her back. Early in 1994 she recorded for Blue Note Records and toured with the group Pieces Of A Dream, but, unlike the sessions with Brown, she found this musically unsatisfying. In January 1996 she appeared at Blues Alley again, a session that was recorded, but when summer came she was unwell. Eva had been experiencing pain in her hip for some time. At the time she was working for a friend in Annapolis on murals in schools cafeterias, and she put the soreness down to too much ladder work. Eventually Eva had a number of tests. Although cancer was suspected, only after several more tests, was the diagnosis confirmed: advanced melanoma. She was told that she had three to five months to live.
Eva was admitted to Johns Hopkins hospital. A constant stream of friends kept coming, bringing her fruit and flowers. She felt badly that these were going to waste, so she asked someone to bring in paper and crayons. Often she could not see her visitors because of the regimen she had, so this way she helped her visitors to express themselves to her. When one stepped off the elevator and saw the hallways lined with people sitting on the floor colouring, talking and getting to know each other; it was a wonderful scene to behold. Eva had every picture hung on the big wall at the end of her bed so she could see them.
In September a tribute concert was organised. It was a moving occasion for all. There were different artists playing all night. Eva Cassidy came out with Chuck Brown at the end. They chose “Red Top” for her, so she wouldn’t have to sing much. He covered her with his animated style, letting her just stand and join in. It was a warm partnership in song. But then she had someone bring her a stool, and sat down to play and sing, “What a Wonderful World”. It was amazing that she pulled together all that strength to do the number- and of course all who knew her were all stunned. That was the last song Eva Cassidy sang in public. It was one of those times that those who were there, will never forget. After the concert Eva had a couple of hundred ‘thank you’ cardsmade. She made a little drawing for it, a heart-shaped smiling face. When friends would visit later, they would find her bent over her pen, handwriting notes on all the cards. She had very little energy and stamina to sit, but she used that time to thank people.
On her Brother Danny’s last visit shortly before Eva passed away, he recorded the violin track for ” I know You By Heart”. Later her father, brother and friends played a concert for her outside her bedroom window.
Eva Cassidy died on 2nd November 1996. She was only 33 years old.
The memorial service later that month was in Greenbelt park, Maryland with the sun shining. It was as Eva would have wanted. Her brother played the violin. Friends sang. Over four hundred people came. A most wonderful voice had been stilled. Yet as Sian and Peter Charlton say so beautifully in their wonderful Welsh tribute to Eva: ‘Sibrwd yn yr Yd‘ (a Whisper in the Corn)
Rhywle dal i ganu.
Rwy’n dy glywed yn y glaw
Sibrwd yn yr yd
Canu o hyd
Singing – somewhere still singing.
I can hear you in the rain
A never ending inspiration
A whisper in the corn – still singing
Eva’s singing voice was a crystalline soprano, ideal for the ballads and folk songs she performed. But she also had tremendous power and when she turned to soul and gospel-flavoured material her voice resounded with emotional sincerity. Her repertoire drew from all these areas and from the more melodic aspects of contemporary pop. While she might be placed only on the edges of jazz her conviction and integrity would often ably carry her over the hazy boundary. The excellent interpretation of Sting ‘s ‘Fields Of Gold’, on ‘Live at Blues Alley’ and (minus the applause) on the compilation album ‘Songbird’, is breathtaking in clarity and delivery, and of course her now famous interpretation of “Over the Rainbow”.
Most of her recorded work displays a remarkable and unspoiled talent, and almost all of it has been released posthumously. Although Eva Cassidy did go to art school, she never had any formal voice training.
In Britain Eva’s music can be heard regularly on many radio stations, but specially on BBC Radio 2 during the ‘Wake up to Wogan’ show.
The ‘Toggs’ (Terry’s old geezers and gals’ as he likes to call them), have had the pleasure of listening to her wonderful voice many times. Terry called her once ‘the late but mighty Eva Cassidy’. Chances are, that you have heard this remarkable artist yourself, even if you did not catch the name at the time.
When you read and hear about Eva Cassidy the person, the artist, read her story, you soon begin to understand why so many people think she was very special indeed. Not only as an artist, but also as a person. This from an article by Joel E. Siegel:
” Eva was a complex person, painfully shy, vulnerable to criticism and subject to seasonal depressions, yet opinionated and unyielding in her personal values and artistic principles. She loved solitude, bicycling, movies and Cheetos, hated high school, dresses, aggressive drivers and the exploitation of women in advertising and television. She was obsessive about her art projects, painting, drawing, sculpting, designing jewellery, decorating furniture and clock faces. Extremely self-conscious, she had little interest in pursuing a professional career in art or music, preferring to surround herself with supportive friends who served as her advocates. She had few possessions and modest goals, sometimes she spoke of wanting to live in a cottage by the ocean, and no sense of money. She didn’t have a checking account until she was 30, and worried that material success would threaten her identity. Battling the melanoma that took her life at 33, she told her mother “All I want to do when I get well is sing and travel around with my music” .
The major record companies had difficulty trying to categorize Eva’s style. She refused to be pushed in a single direction, preferring instead to sing the songs she loved, whether they were Jazz or Spiritual, Blues, Country or Pop. It was always a sadness to her that people did not understand that she just wanted to sing nice songs, make good music. Bruce Lundvall president of Jazz and classics for Capitol Records considered signing Eva Cassidy and it was he who teamed her with the band Pieces of a Dream for a while. But for Eva this was musically unsatisfying and the main record companies did not pursue her record career after that.
It does not matter what your musical taste is. It does not matter if you buy just one or many CDs each year. You will find that any Eva Cassidy CD will become a treasured possession. For it is the same story, the World over, every time anyone hears Eva Cassidy’s voice for the first time. You stop what you are doing and you listen. Then you rush out and buy the other CDs.
And you will be so glad you did.
Eva loved Annapolis:
The Maryland Inn, small and homely, with its fourposter beds, its narrow corridors and its intimate ambience. Built in 1772 on “Drummer’s Lot” where town drummer cried the daily news, and wedged into a busy triangle intersection, this impressive flatiron shaped structure has been in operation
as an inn since the 1770’s. Not that they accept just anyone as a
guest, as you can see from the 1786 Rules of the Inn.
No Thieves, Fakirs, Rogues or Tinkers. No skulking loafers or flea-bitten Tramps.
No slap an’ tickle o’ the Wenches. No banging o’ tankards on the tables
No dogs allowed in the kitchen ,no cockfighting. Flintlocks, cudgels, daggers and swords, to be handed to the Innkeeper for safe-keeping.
Bed for the night 1 shilling .Stabling for the horse 4 pence
Its not difficult to see how a shy but brilliant artist would feel at ease in this environment. As Laura Bligh says:
‘Eva liked to play there because it was small and people really seemed to be
listening. Nobody ever expected that portions of that tape would
be on an internationally-distributed CD! Almost everything on TIME
AFTER TIME was recorded either as a demo tape or for the
purpose of self-critiquing. Funny how things turn out….’
Eva Cassidy still speaks for herself
She can do this now, as she did when she was performing; through her music. As someone once said, the genius of Eva Cassidy is that what she did, she could do anywhere; in a studio, on stage, in your front room. It would all have that same perfect Eva Cassidy sound. Eva did not require a band to make an impact, she did not require sophisticated studio production, she just needed a microphone and an amp for her guitar. Although she did employ musicians for many of her appearances and recordings, some of the most impressive and brilliant pieces of music are those where it is just her and her guitar.
Had she lived, she would undoubtedly have become one of the truly great solo artists of this new century. It is said that Eva was her own worst critic. A perfectionist, and she would only wish to have the best material released. But she is no longer with us, so rightly those who now guard her legacy, people like the Cassidy family, make the judgments as I am sure, Eva would want them to do. After all, they knew her best, and could her legacy be in better hands ?
CD releases. It has been pointed out to us that there are more Eva Cassidy CDs on the market, then indicated below. This is true. However, the releases indicated below are the only ones, which have been released by Blix Street Records as licensed by Barbara and Hugh Cassidy. You could say that these represent the only Cassidy family ‘authorised’ releases. Often Eva was asked to record songs for various songwriters as ‘demos’ and no doubt there is quite a lot of this demonstration material around. For those people who may wish to be able to identify one from the other, we therefore limit this site to these what we call ‘authorised’ releases. In doing so,we pass no judgement on any other releases. We have merely decided to only feature the releases Barbara and Hugh Cassidy endorse. Each and everyone a gem. Each and everyone worth buying. Each and everyone worthy to be released in the Eva Cassidy name. Each and everyone a celebration of the talents of this remarkable woman. It is undoubtedly her resolve NOT to be labeled and categorised by the record companies that has created this varied collection of beautiful music, she has left us.
Much has been said about her collaboration with Chuck Brown. They produced a CD together called ‘The Other Side’. A wonderful celebration of two talents.
This CD also includes that most wonderful recording of ‘Over the Rainbow’ and is a wonderful showcase for Eva’s talent for harmony. Her perfect pitch is demonstrated so well when she hits the absolute right note when singing the phrase “you’ve changed” in the song of the same name.
So the following CDs are available:
Live at Blues Alley – Eva by Heart – Songbird – Time after Time – Imagine – American Tune – Somewhere – Simply Eva – The Best Of Eva Cassidy
and with Chuck Brown ‘ The other Side’
Available in all good record stores and of course on the Net via Amazon.com, Bol.com
One of the songs on the album Imagine is ‘Danny boy’. Eva’s interpretation of this song is very beautiful. Some Website visitors have emailed us saying that the label on the CD is wrong, that this song infact is called ‘Londonderry Air’. But is this so ? Indeed this traditional song does have a facinating history. For those interested, here are some details :
To begin with, Danny Boy is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune. The author was an English lawyer, Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929), who was also a songwriter and radio entertainer. In 1910 he wrote the words and music for an unsuccessful song he called Danny Boy. In 1912 his sister-in-law in America sent him a tune called the Londonderry Air, which he had never heard before. He immediately noticed that the melody was a perfect fit to his Danny Boy lyrics, and published a revised version of the song in 1913.’