Amazing Stories – Eva Cassidy

The AWESOME! page has random music stuff that I think is cool. You never know what you will find here!

There are lots of amazing stories in music. Sometimes, I run across a story that I find particularly amazing – so much so, that I put them in the AWESOME! category. Here is the second of the ongoing series of Amazing Stories. See my first Amazing Story about Billy McLaughlin, published on January 21, 2018.

Eva Cassidy was born in Washington D.C. in 1963 and grew up in the suburbs. She showed interest in music as a child, and started playing guitar at the age of 9. She joined a wedding band when she was 11, and by the time she was 20, she was performing revues on stage with her brother at a theme park. During the 80s, she did session vocalist work for local artists. In 1990, she formed the Eva Cassidy Band, singing blues and jazz standards at clubs in the D.C. area.

In 1992, she recorded a duet album with Chuck Brown, a Washington area icon known as “The Godfather of Go-Go.” The album, titled The Other Side, included covers of old soul, jazz and blues standards like Fever, God Bless The Child, and importantly, Over The Rainbow.  It was the only studio album that Cassidy would release in her lifetime – more on that in a minute.

In 1993 and 1994, she was awarded 3 Wammie Awards – the Washington D.C. version of a Grammy – in Vocalist Jazz and in Roots Rock categories. She attempted to land recording contracts with several labels, but she had creative conflict with one, and a second went bankrupt before she could record anything. She decided to release her own live album, and in January 1996, she recorded Live At Blues Alley. While she didn’t like the sound of her singing due to a cold, the album was well received by the public. It would be the last recording that she would see.

In July 1996, she started to experience aches in her joints. Tests determined that she had cancer. In September that year, she sang her final concert, closing with It’s A Wonderful World. By November, she was dead at the age of 33. A studio album that she had been working on, Eva By Heart, was released in 1997, and her legacy was complete – or so we thought!

Now – the amazing part. After her death, a local musician played the Live At Blues Alley recording for a record label executive. This led to the executive contacting Cassidy’s family to ask that a new album of her work be compiled. In 1998, Songbird was released. It included her cover of Over the Rainbow, a cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold, and Christine McVie’s Songbird – all popular songs in the U.K. It remained obscure until 2000 – that’s when Terry Wogan, a radio personality in England, played several of the songs on his popular radio program Wake Up to Wogan on BBC Radio 2. She was an instant hit – over 100,000 copies of the CD sold in the coming months. The New York Times discovered her, and wrote 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.” Soon, people started to notice in the U.S. too.

A video of Cassidy performing Over the Rainbow at Blues Alley surfaced, and England’s Top of the Pops 2 aired it in late 2000. The video became the most requested video ever for the program. Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton now were fans, and critics wrote glowing reviews of her work. Songbird ultimately would be certified 6x platinum in the UK, and was the 44th best selling album in the UK for the 00s decade. The album also achieved gold status in the U.S.

More recordings of her work were found. Since her death, 11 albums have been released – some are compilations with previously released songs, while some are original recordings, including a few songs that she herself wrote. The albums charted in Europe, and not surprisingly, did particularly well in the UK – several reached #1 there. She has sold over 10 million copies of her albums since her passing.

Michelle Kwan used Cassidy’s version of Fields of Gold for one of her skating performances at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Several other skaters have used her songs in their performances. Her music has been used in numerous films and TV shows. Her interpretations of Over the Rainbow, and of John Lennon’s Imagine, have been used by contestants on American Idol and The X Factor. 

Only a few of you readers know about this wonderful vocalist. It’s time that you heard her. Here is the video of her performing her signature song, Over the Rainbow. You can here her music on all the streaming services – I suggest you take the time to listen.


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