Singer/songwriter/guitarist/artist EVA CASSIDY (b. February 2, 1963 in Washington, DC) died from skin cancer. Cassidy grew up in Oxon Hill and later in Bowie, Maryland, both suburbs of Washington, DC. She was the third of four children. Her father Hugh Cassidy, a retired teacher, sculptor, musician, former army medic and world champion powerlifter, is of Scottish and Irish descent, while her German-born mother Barbara Kratzer Cassidy was a horticulturist.
From an early age, Cassidy displayed interest in art and music, harmonizing perfectly with the music from the car radio with an amazing gift for perfect harmony. When she was nine, her father (a teacher of children with learning disabilities and a part-time musician) began teaching her to play the guitar, and she began to play and sing at family gatherings. He then 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.“From the time she was able to draw,” explained her mother Barbara, “Eva was driven to create something every day of her life.” “We had four children, and they were forever drawing, and they always had crayons and paper. When Eva was about two and a half, we could already tell she had talent. Even at that age, her stick figures already had motion to them.”“Eva was always drawing or working with clay or painting or playing her guitar,” her father Hugh added, “She was always creating something.” Aspects of the world that normally cease to fascinate the mature human soul continued to bring Eva to a place of awe and wonder throughout adulthood. “Up to and including the time of her passing, there was always this naiveté,” Hugh recalled. “It was charming; no one would ever call her on it. It was a kind of unknowing, a starry-eyed wonder at certain things being the way they were.”“Eva thought that everything and everyone deserved respect,” remembered Eva’s eldest sister, Anette, “and she was quite frustrated when the world was unfair that way.”
“There was always music in the house,” Eva’s sister, Margret Cassidy-Robinson, recalled. “We listened to the legends of folk music, blues and jazz from a very early age: Buffy Sainte Marie, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Odetta, and Pete Seeger, among others.” At age 11, Cassidy began singing and playing guitar in a Washington-area band called Easy Street. This band performed in a variety of styles at weddings, corporate parties, and pubs. Due to her shyness, she struggled with performing in front of strangers. While a student at Bowie High School, she sang with a local band called Stonehenge. During the summer of 1983, Cassidy sang and played guitar six days a week at the theme park Wild World. Her younger brother Dan, a fiddler, was also a member of this working band. She enrolled in art classes at Prince George’s Community College but dropped out after finding them unhelpful.Throughout the 1980s, Cassidy worked with several other bands, including the techno-pop band Characters Without Names. During this period, Cassidy also worked as a propagator at a plant nursery and as a furniture painter. In her free time, she explored other artistic expressions including painting, sculpting, and jewelry design. Despite holding a belief in God, Cassidy was not part of any organized religion.In 1986, she was asked by Stonehenge guitarist and high school friend, David Lourim, to lend her voice to his music project “Method Actor.” This brought her to Black Pond Studios, where she met recording engineer and bassist Chris Biondo, who helped her find work as a session singer and later introduced her to Al Dale, who would become her manager. She sang back-ups for various acts, from go-go rhythm and blues band Experience Unlimited to rapper E-40. Biondo and Cassidy, who were in a romantic relationship for a time, formed the five-piece “Eva Cassidy Band” with Lenny Williams, Keith Grimes and Raice McLeod in 1990, and began to perform frequently in the Washington area.In 1992, Biondo played a tape of Cassidy’s voice for Chuck Brown, the “Godfather of go-go”.
It resulted in the duet album “The Other Side” featuring performances of classic songs such as “Fever,” “God Bless the Child,” and what would later become Cassidy’s signature song, “Over the Rainbow.” The album was released and distributed in 1992 by Liaison Records, the label that also released Brown’s Go-go albums. Brown originally intended to record an additional duet with Cassidy for his next solo album, but this was postponed due to ongoing negotiations between Dale and other labels for a solo deal. Cassidy’s unwillingness to narrow her stylistic focus to one genre hindered her chances of securing a deal. After talks broke down, the two decided to record their own duet album. As a duo, they performed at the Columbia Arts Festival and opened for acts like Al Green and The Neville Brothers.In 1993, Cassidy was honored by the Washington Area Music Association with a Wammie award for the Vocalist Jazz/Traditional category. The next year she was invited to perform at the event and chose to sing “Over the Rainbow.
” A Washington Times review of the event called her performance “a show-stopper.” She took home two Wammies that night, again for Vocalist Jazz/Traditional and also for Roots Rock/Traditional R&B. For a brief period in 1994, Cassidy signed a deal with Blue Note Records to pair up with pop-jazz band Pieces of a Dream to release an album and tour the country. She sang two tracks in a mainly instrumental album, but unlike the sessions with Brown, she found this musically unsatisfying.After having a potential contract with Apollo Records collapse when the label went bankrupt, Biondo and Dale decided that she should release her own live album. In January 1996, the material for “Live at Blues Alley” was recorded over a two-day period at the Blues Alley venue in Washington, DC. Due to a technical glitch on the first night of recording, only the second night’s recording was usable. Unhappy with the way she sounded due to a cold, she was reluctant to release the album. She eventually relented, on the condition that the studio track “Oh, Had I a Golden Thread,” Cassidy’s favorite song, would be included in the release, and that they start working on a follow-up studio album. Her apprehension appeared unfounded as local reviewers and the public responded positively. The Washington Post commented that “she could sing anything — folk, blues, pop, jazz, R&B, gospel — and make it sound like it was the only music that mattered.” The subsequent studio album she worked on was released posthumously as “Eva by Heart” in 1997, and in the liner notes critic Joel E. Siegel described Cassidy as “one of the greatest voices of her generation.”In 1993, Cassidy had a malignant mole removed from her back. Three years later, during a promotional event for the “Live at Blues Alley” album in July 1996, she noticed an ache in her hips, which she attributed to standing in difficult positions on ladders in order to paint the large wall murals in locals schools. As the summer wore on, the pain intensified. True to her nature, Cassidy never complained. She did, however, begin walking with a cane, even during performances at local venues. The pain became unbearable, and Cassidy finally sought medical treatment.X-rays revealed that the melanoma had spread to her lungs and bones. Her doctors estimated she had three to five months to live. Cassidy opted for aggressive treatment, but her health deteriorated rapidly.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 coloring, 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.On September 17th, 1996, Cassidy sang in public for the last time.
Only a few months after the release of “Live At Blue Alley,” some of her friends in the Washington music community had put together a tribute concert for her at “The Bayou” nightclub in Georgetown. The large club was crowded with Eva’s friends and fans, and many local musicians performed and expressed their warmest affection for the honoree. Then Keith Grimes announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming to the stage… Eva Cassidy!”Eva moved very slowly, leaning on a walker. She was dressed much as she had been at Blues Alley, in black leggings and an oversized grey man-tailored shirt with long sleeves and patch pockets, the collar of a white T shirt showing underneath. Her shiny blonde hair was gone but a rather chic black velvet cap covered her head. Amid many cries of “Eva!,” someone called from the audience, “We love you!” “I love you too,” she said.Chuck Brown, Keith Grimes and Chris Biondo were already on stage, emotional but ready to play. The other regular members of the Eva Cassidy Band, Lenny Williams and Raice McLeod, were unable to be there due to prior out-of-town engagements. Taking their places were some familiar faces from the early days of the Band: Kent Wood on keyboard, and JuJu House on drums. Their first song was “Red Top,” which was really a warm-up for Eva, who only had a minor back-up part to Chuck’s lead vocals. “We’re gonna sing to you, baby,” Chuck said softly.After the applause for “Red Top,” Keith Grimes brought out Eva’s Guild “Songbird” guitar.
Chris Biondo moved a wooden stool into position, and came around behind Eva. During Eva’s illness he had seen her or spoken to her every day, and he knew how little strength she had. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he drew her gently onto the stool, while she laughed a little at her own helplessness. “Now my nose is running,” she complained plaintively. Tissues were proffered from the front rows of the audience, and she took a moment to wipe her nose and eyes, and joke a bit about her condition. She played a tentative chord, adjusted her mike a little. Then she finger-picked the introduction to “What a Wonderful World.”Eva’s voice was sweet, a trifle short of breath at first. “I see trees that are green… red roses too….” Soon her power and confidence grew and the song blossomed. The people in the audience marveled at Eva’s ability to sing so beautifully while she was clearly so very ill. Behind her, Biondo concentrated fiercely on his bass part. “I see skies of blue and clouds of white, the light of day and the darkness of night,” Eva sang, adding a verse of the ballad she had not known when she recorded it at Blues Alley earlier that year.
When the song was almost over as she sang the line “I think to myself, oh, what a wonderful…” she paused, looked around the audience, packed both downstairs and in the balcony. Everybody was crying, but Eva shed no tears for herself. Her young face was pale but beautiful, her eyes very bright. “…World,” she concluded. She waved her hand to the weeping audience. “Thank you so much, thank you so much.”After the concert Eva had a couple of hundred thank you cards made. 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. Just six weeks after her last performance, the additional chemotherapy proved ineffective and Cassidy died on November 2, 1996 at her family’s home in Bowie.In accordance with her wishes, her body was cremated and the ashes were scattered on the lake shores of St. Mary’s River Watershed Park, a nature reserve near Callaway, Maryland.
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”).After her premature death, local folk singer Grace Griffith introduced the “Live At Blues Alley” recording to Bill Straw from her label, Blix Street Records. Straw approached the Cassidy family to put together a new album. In 1998, a compilation of tracks from Cassidy’s three released recordings was assembled into the CD “Songbird.” This CD lingered in relative obscurity for two years until being given airplay by Terry Wogan on his wide-reaching BBC Radio 2 show “Wake Up to Wogan,” following recommendation by his producer Paul Walters. The album sold more than 100,000 copies in the following months. The New York Times spoke of her “silken soprano voice with a wide and seemingly effortless range, unerring pitch and a gift for phrasing that at times was heart-stoppingly eloquent.”Before Christmas of 2000, “Top Of The Pops 2” aired a video of Cassidy performing “Over the Rainbow,” which resulted in “Songbird” climbing steadily up the UK charts over the next few weeks. Just as ITV’s “Tonight with Trevor McDonald” aired a feature on Cassidy, the album topped the UK album chart. Shot at Blues Alley by a friend with a camcorder the same night the album was recorded, the video became the most requested video ever shown on “Top Of The Pops 2.”The chart success in the UK and Ireland led to increased recognition worldwide; her posthumously released recordings, including three UK #1 records, have sold more than ten million copies. Her music has also charted top 10 positions in Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.
The Guardian wrote: “There’s an undeniable emotional appeal in hearing an artist who you know died in obscurity singing a song about hope and a mystical world beyond everyday life.”Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton were among her new-found fans. Jazz critic Ted Gioia wrote: “you might be tempted to write off the ‘Cassidy sensation’ as a response to the sad story of the singer’s abbreviated life rather than as a measure of her artistry. But don’t be mistaken, Cassidy was a huge talent, whose obscurity during her lifetime was almost as much a tragedy as her early death.” “Songbird” has since achieved significant chart success throughout Europe and six times platinum status in the UK. Although still relatively unknown in the US at that time, the album would eventually be certified gold in the United States as well.In 2001, a book titled “Songbird: Eva Cassidy: Her Story By Those Who Knew Her,” on the life and work of Cassidy based on interviews with close family and associates was released in the UK. The hardcover edition has since sold in excess of 100,000 copies. A US edition published by Gotham Books was released in late 2003 and includes two additional chapters on her influences and success in the US. Her life story has also been adapted into the musical “Songbird” and also a Broadway piece for cancer research benefit.In May 2001, ABC’s “Nightline” in the United States broadcast a well-received short documentary about Cassidy, a labor of love from Nightline correspondent Dave Marash who was a fan of her music. Over the weekend, all five of Cassidy’s albums occupied Amazon.com’s best sellers list top spots. The “Nightline” episode has since been rebroadcast three times due to popular demand. Producer Leroy Sievers has said that it is “probably the most popular episode ever”. In December 2001, a nine-minute segment on NPR resulted in a similar sales surge, with five of the top seven spots going to Cassidy. A rebroadcast of the “Tonight with Trevor McDonald” feature on Cassidy in Britain also bumped up sales.Since “Songbird”, several other CDs with original material have been released: “Time After Time” (2000), “Imagine” (2002) and “American Tune” (2003). 2008 saw the release of another new album titled “Somewhere.” Unlike previous albums, which consisted solely of cover songs, this release contains two original songs co-written by Cassidy. An acoustic album titled “Simply Eva” was released in January 2011.
Together with word of mouth and internet fansites, online commerce has played a big role in Cassidy’s success. This point was further affirmed when in 2005, Amazon.com released a list of its top 25 best-selling musicians, which placed Cassidy in fifth position, behind The Beatles, U2, Norah Jones and Diana Krall.In 2004, during the gala opening of the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, the Bowie Regional Arts Vision Association, Inc. (BRAVA) dedicated the Star’s Dressing Room to Eva. Following a moving tribute to Eva, Chuck Brown took the stage and performed his duet “with” Eva as her photos and video appeared in the background.A number of filmmakers have proposed films based on Cassidy’s life, and have worked with her family to greater or lesser degrees, but to date these projects have not progressed past the early development stages. In late 2007, singer Katie Melua recorded a posthumous duet of “What a Wonderful World” with Eva’s “Live At Blues Alley” rendition, as a fundraiser for the British Red Cross. The single reached #1 on the UK singles chart.That same year, AIR Productions acquired the rights to produce a film based on Cassidy’s life. It is proposed to be produced by Amy Redford (daughter of Robert Redford), Irwin Shapiro and Rick Singer. In an interview a year earlier, Cassidy’s parents suggested Kirsten Dunst or Emily Watson as possible actresses who could play their daughter.A documentary on the life, art and music of Cassidy entitled “Eva’s Song” was initially expected to be in theaters February 2013, but as of 2015 the project was still in development.Eva Cassidy’s artwork is also experiencing worldwide acclaim. A piece of her original handmade jewelry recently sold for over $1,000 to benefit cancer research and treatment. Every day, newcomers to Eva’s music and art flock to the two web sites dedicated to her memory and accomplishments: evacassidy.com & evacassidy.org. These new fans discover a wonderful world of their own. Her story is nothing short of a true testament to the triumph of the human spirit. It serves as a reminder to all of us that sometimes, even when bad things happen to good people, miracles can follow.