(February 2, 1963 in Oxon Hill, Maryland – November 2, 1996
in Bowie, Maryland) was an American vocalist described by
the British newspaper The Guardian 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,
DC, when she died of melanoma in 1996. However, her
posthumously released recordings have since sold in excess
of four million copies, and in early 2001 the compilation
album Songbird reached #1 on the
Cassidy was the third of four children born to Hugh and
Barbara Cassidy. From an early age, she displayed
exceptional artistic and musical talent. When she was nine
years old, her father bought her a guitar, and she began to
play at family gatherings with her musical siblings.
entered her teens, however, Cassidy seemed to be unaware of
the depth of her own talent. She did, however, sing with an
amateur band, called Stonehenge, during high school and
received considerable praise. Due to her extreme shyness,
she struggled with performing in front of strangers.
age of eighteen, Cassidy began her professional career,
singing and playing guitar in a Washington, D.C. area band,
called Easy Street. This band performed in a variety of
styles, at weddings, corporate parties, and smokey pubs.
Cassidy paid her dues as a struggling young musician,
working with Easy Street on Christmas night in 1982, at a
neighborhood pub in Bowie, Maryland.
the Summer of 1983, Cassidy sang and played guitar, six days
per week, at the Wild World Theme Park, in Maryland. Her
brother Dan was also a member of this working band, and
together they developed much of the material she would later
become famous for singing.
Throughout the 1980s, Cassidy worked with a number of other
bands, including the soul and Motown oriented band, The
Honeybees, and the techno-pop original band, Characters
Without Names. Cassidy co-wrote songs, along with the other
band members, and recorded them at various home studios.
this same period, Cassidy also worked as a propagator at a
plant nursery and as a furniture painter in
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 Cassidy formed the
five piece "Eva Cassidy Band" and she began to perform in
the Washington, DC, area.
Biondo played a tape of Cassidy's for Chuck Brown. Brown,
best known as a "Go-Go" singer, is also an accomplished jazz
and blues vocalist. This led to the first commercial
recording of Cassidy, the duet album with Chuck Brown,
The Other Side; which featured performances of classic
songs such as "Fever", Billie Holiday's "God Bless the
Child" and Cassidy's signature tune "Over the Rainbow". The
independently released duet CD attracted the attention of
various record companies, but the offers all required
Cassidy to pigeonhole herself within a single style (e.g.,
pop or jazz), something she adamantly refused to do.
January 1996 Cassidy recorded the album Live at Blues
Alley, about which the Washington Post later
commented that "she could sing anything and make it sound
like the only music that mattered". Cassidy was unhappy with
the album and promptly began recording a studio album which
was eventually released as Eva by Heart in 1997.
a promotional event for this CD in July 1996, 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. By the
time of her diagnosis, the cancer had spread throughout her
body, causing the pain in her hips.
Cassidy's health 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.
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. When friends would visit later, they
would find her bent over her pen, handwriting thank-you
cards. She had very little energy and stamina to sit, but
she used that time to thank people. Eva Cassidy died on
November 2, 1996, at the age of 33.
the later part of 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
Raice McLeod - drums
Posthumous recognition and popularity
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 BBC Radio Two by presenter Terry Wogan. In 2001
the album reached #1 in the UK. Sting, the songwriter for
"Fields of Gold", was reportedly moved to tears when he
heard Cassidy's version of his song. The Songbird CD
also achieved significant chart success throughout
Europe and has achieved gold status in the
then, two further compilations have been released: Time
After Time (2000) and Imagine (2002). In 2001 a
book entitled Songbird was released in the UK on the
life and work of Cassidy, based on interviews with close
family and associates. The hardcover edition has since sold
in excess of 100,000 copies. A U.S. edition (softcover,
published by Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group USA)
was released in late 2003 and included two additional
March 2001, ABC's Nightline in the
broadcast a well-received
short documentary about Eva Cassidy. A similar broadcast
occurred on ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald in
in May 2001.
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). Eva's performance of
"Kathy's Song" can be heard in the feature film Maid in
Manhattan which was released in 2002 as well.
2003, Anglo/Georgian singer Katie Melua released her song
"Faraway Voice", in memory of Cassidy.
2003, American Tune became Eva's third consecutive #1
album in the UK. No other recording artist in popular music
history has been able to match this posthumous success,
including Elvis Presley. Eva's song Songbird was
featured in the feature film Love Actually which was
released in the fall of 2003.
singer Chris De Burgh has stated in concert that his song
"Songbird" from his album The Road to Freedom was
written in honor of Eva Cassidy.
of Eva performing many of her signature songs, entitled
Eva Cassidy Sings, was released in 2004 in the
It is not currently available in region 1.
"She could sing anything . . . and make it sound
like it was the only music that mattered." -- Richard
Nov. 17, 1996
"A voice as powerful and soulful as any in
popular music." -- Associated Press
"One of the best voices to have emerged from the
in years." -- The Australian
“Eva Cassidy’s is the most remarkable posthumous
career trajectory in pop music history.” --
"Cassidy did not write many original songs. Her
talent lay in interpretation, in a mastery of emotional
redefinition of a song and in finding her path to the
heart of the song often missing from its original
recording. One critic observed, "Cassidy had a voice that
would silence a bar and make pool players set down their
cues. She was developing a body of work that could have
grown into the voice of a generation." -- Cassidy Clan
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