The music lives on
Eva Cassidy is an incredible singer who has sold more than five million albums worldwide. To date, nine CD’s of her music have been released; additionally, three songbooks and a biography are available, as are a series of note cards featuring her artwork and a selection of prints. Eva Cassidy has become an industry.
Her latest CD release, “Simply Eva,” was released late last year and is indeed simply Eva Cassidy, on vocals and guitar and that’s it. It was taken from studio tracks and live recordings.
Oh, and Eva Cassidy died of cancer in 1996.
She lived to see just two albums be released one she recorded with R&B singer Chuck Brown, in 1992, and “Live from Blues Alley” that was released several months before she died.
Years ago I heard American singer who died and was “discovered” on a BBC Radio 2 morning program and because of that little bit of airplay, her albums started to sell quite well in Britain. I didn’t pay much attention to the story until just a few years ago when listening to the soundtrack from the film “Love Actually,” which featured Cassidy’s cover of the Christine McVie tune “Songbird.” I was blown away by her powerful voice and had no idea that she was actually playing the guitar on the track. I ended up buying her “Songbird” CD and loved every song on the disc.
During her lifetime, Eva Cassidy played in and around her hometown in Maryland, even venturing into Washington DC to play the famous Blues Alley club. She can sing jazz, blues, folk, rock, Gospel and absolutely kills on the standards like “Over the Rainbow.” It was that song that got played on the BBC and created the industry that her music has become.
Shortly after recording her live album in 1996 she was diagnosed with cancer and given very little time to live. Two weeks before she died, her friends in Maryland held a benefit concert for her. She attended, got up on stage (with a little help) and sang “What a Wonderful World” to a room full of tears. No one, friends or family, ever thought that her music would live on well past her own 33 years. And yet, the newest CD to be released is an amazing piece of music.
Six of the CD’s twelve songs were recorded “live” in producer Chris Biondo’s recording studio in Maryland. Eva selected the songs she wanted to sing and she goes all over the map finding songs that actually say something and songs that she makes her own. From “Songbird” to the Cyndi Lauper hit “True Colors” to the classic chestnut “Autumn Leaves,” Eva owns the song with her beautiful voice as well as her incredible guitar playing.
Four of the songs were recorded at a now defunct club called “Pearl’s” in Annapolis: the Sandy Denny classic “Who Knows Where the Time Goes;” Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song;” Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues;” and the traditional hymn “Wade in the Water.” Two tracks come from the Blues Alley live sessions recorded in January 1996 — her incredible version of “Over the Rainbow” and Lauper’s “Time After Time.” And it doesn’t matter how many versions of “Over the Rainbow” you may have heard, if you have not heard Eva Cassidy sing the song, as the saying goes, you ain’t heard nothin’.
She sings so effortlessly in all of these great songs and for having been recorded in clubs and in the studio, the disc flows beautifully from song to song. For some reason, stardom was not to be had for Cassidy when she was alive, but it has arrived for her, and perhaps this was the way that she wanted it to be. She had an opportunity to make records for big time labels, but she wanted to do it on her terms, something most record labels are not that fond of. Her producer once said that a guy from a record company came around to one of her shows and wanted to sign her to a deal. The guy asked Eva what she wanted to do and she replied, “Not that pop crap you put out.” The guy left and never contacted her again. She was also courted by Blue Note Records who wanted her to do a jazz record, but Eva wasn’t about to get pigeonholed into a genre, so there was no deal.
Looking back, it is easy to say that it all worked out for the best. But what really worked out, and what all musicians should remain aware of, is that everywhere she went, Cassidy’s shows were recorded. There was tape rolling just about every time she opened her mouth, and it would probably be a good idea for most musicians, songwriters and performers to record their shows whenever possible.
Since being “discovered” by the BBC in 1998, Eva has been the subject of articles in the “New York Times,” national news and entertainment magazines, even a profile on ABC’s “Nightline,” all shining a light on a singer who made her mark many years after her death.
Listening to “Simply Eva” I find myself wondering what would have happened if she had gotten a major label deal. It is a moot point now, but this gifted and talented young lady has left her mark on the world and more and more people continue to discover her voice and her songs. Her nine CD’s, books, artwork and more may be found at Evacassidy.com.