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Eva Marie Cassidy (Oxon Hill, Washington DC, February 2, 1963 – Bowie, Maryland, November 2, 1996) was a jazz and soul singer. Admirer of Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald and Linda Ronstadt, her melodic style has been compared to that of Nancy Wilson and has admirers such as Roberta Flack, Shirley Horn, Sting, Mick Fleetwood, Chris de Burg and Paul McCartney. She is considered one of the best singers of the 20th century.
From German and Irish ancestors, from an early age she showed interest and talent for painting and music. His father and brother were amateur musicians and Cassidy had as his first influences the folk of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Buffy Sainte-Marie. At age nine he learned to play the guitar and started playing for friends and family, although Eva never showed professional ambition. During the institute he was a vocalist in a local band of Washington D.C., Stonehenge, and later he was part of Easy Street, with whom he performed in several clubs in the area. He also collaborated with Wild World, The Honeybees and the techno-pop band Method Actor in the first half of the 80s.
In 1986, Cassidy met Chris Biondo, a sound engineer, who, upon learning of her musical skills, encouraged her to record her studio versions and became her main supporter. In 1990 Biondo, also bassist, and Cassidy formed a stable band with guitarist Lenny Williams, and performed in clubs in Washington DC, acquiring some local popularity, being represented by Al Dale. Two years later, Biondo managed to get Chuck Brown, renowned musician of the funk and soul scene based in the city, a recording of Eva’s voice. Brown was impressed and compared her to Ella Fitzgerald. That same year, Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy recorded an album, The Other Side, which featured versions of classic songs such as “Fever” and artists such as Billie Holiday, as well as Eva’s performance of “Over the rainbow”. The work was edited by Liaison Records and enjoyed good local reception, which allowed Cassidy to receive several offers from record companies to become a solo singer. She rejected them all because they asked her to adapt her personal style to a more pop sound, and she continued to play with her band in local venues during the following years and living on a farm outside of Washington.
In September 1993 he was diagnosed with a tumor in his neck but did not give importance and did not follow any treatment. He continued to play around the city, often with Brown, and won several local awards.
In January 1996 Live at Blues Alley went on sale, a live album with the best songs that Cassidy used to perform in his performances that was recorded over two intense sessions in two nights at this prestigious club in Georgetown. , which despite its small size – capacity is only 124 spectators – since 1965 has hosted jazz stars such as Sarah Vaughan, Maynard Ferguson, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis. The album features unforgettable recreations of Cheek to cheek, Take me to the river, People get ready or What a wonderful world. In this regard, The Washington Post published that she “could sing any song and make it the only music that mattered”. Despite this, Cassidy was not satisfied with her voice the night of the recording. The recording of the first night was lost due to technical problems. The next day, Eva Cassidy sang about thirty songs of which 16 were featured on the album Live at Blues Alley and in a video of the performance that was subsequently broadcast.
Cassidy, Biondo and Dale formed their own label to edit the recordings and called it CDB Records by the initials of their last names. To pay for the manufacture of the CDs, Cassidy uses the money that an aunt had given her. “We had ordered a lot of a thousand CDs,” says Biondo. “I remember when I went with her to Virginia to pick them up from the CD plant, she thought we bought too many, so the whole trip was saying that she knew she was going to have boxes and boxes of them out there forever.” During that time Eva also worked making artistic mural paintings in schools in the area.
Next, Eva, Biondo and the rest of the band recorded new versions to edit a studio album. In June of the same year, during the promotion of Live at Blues Alley, Eva began to feel pain in the hip. Days later, she was diagnosed with advanced skin cancer. Despite the chemotherapy treatment, he died on November 2 at the age of 33 years. His last performance took place in September in front of a group of friends for whom he played What a wonderful world.
The only studio album, Eva by heart – with Time is a healer, I know you by heart or Songbird, Fleetwood Mac’s classic, among its furrows – already appeared posthumously in 1997.
‘Eva conjugated a deep emotion and a perfect technique, and all without an ounce of pretentiousness,’ said saxophonist Ron Holloway in The Washington Post Magazine.
At the beginning of the following year Eva by heart was published and Cassidy was recognized by the Washington Music Association. Despite the popularity achieved in the Washington DC area, Eva was not practically known in the rest of the world.
One of her friends and admirers sent a tape to Bill Straw of Blix Street Records who was impressed with her voice and style and compiled songs from the three albums released by Eva and released the album Songbird, which remained in the background until that in 2000, Terry Wogan, for the radio of the British BBC, began to spread it in its program by recommendation of its producer without practically knowing the figure of Cassidy, receiving numerous requests of the listeners soon to listen to the voice of Eva. The album climbed to number 1 on the British charts selling more than a million copies, and achieved gold record status in the United States, reaping great success in many other countries. Sting said in an interview that she could not contain her tears when she first heard the version Eva recorded of her theme Fields of gold, included in the album. Songbird allows us to glimpse an unusual talent and regret the colossal hopes that the disease truncated suddenly.
The flame of Eva Cassidy shone again with the release in 2000 of Time after time, for which their versions of Kathy’s song (Paul Simon), Is not no sunshine (Bill Withers), At last were rescued (Etta James), Woodstock (Joni Mitchell) or Cindy Lauper’s title track.
The Imagine album released in 2002 features an impressive version of Sandy Denny’s classic “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” and a content that is the quintessence of Cassidy’s repertoire: ” It Does not Matter Anymore, ” by Paul Anka, also recorded by Buddy Holly and then by Linda Ronstadt; the classic folk of Gordon Lightfoot ” Early Morning Rain ”; ” You’ve Changed, ” that Billie Holiday popularized; ” Fever, ” with the accompaniment to the violin of his brother Dan, and the song of John Lennon that gives title to the album.The diffusion of this disc was perhaps the moment of maximum popularity of the ill-fated singer and coincided with a moment in which appeared in the panorama of vocal jazz some other figures who have completely renewed it as Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Lisa Ekdahl, Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, Stacey Kent or Jane Monheit.
Cassidy never recorded his own compositions, so all the published material consists of versions by other authors. Afterwards, several more compilation albums have been published: American tune (2003) and Wonderful world (2004), all of which have reached number 1 in the United Kingdom and adding sales of over four million copies.
The anniversary of the Blues Alley concerts was commemorated in 2015 with the release of Nightbird, a set of 33 songs taken almost entirely from the night of February 5, 1995 at the Georgetown club, with a DVD of the performance – where the magnetism of the blonde singer can be appreciated. In a sense Stormy Monday, the sweet version of Autumn Leaves and the stripped and exciting creation of Over the Rainbow reveal not only a perfect voice but also a precious soul.
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