Monday, May 3, 2010

Eva By Heart

By the time I discovered Eva Cassidy, she had already succumbed to cancer at the age of 33. She left behind a "heartbreaking work of staggering genius" in her diverse musical recordings, but few people know that she was an accomplished artist as well. You can see some of her work here. But music was her true love.

Eva's voice could be soft and tender when she was singing a ballad, or rough and throaty when she sang the blues. And lordy, could she sing the blues! Her version of Billie Holliday's "You've Changed" grabs you and won't let you go. And jazz...when she sings "Fever",  you'll forget you ever heard it by Peggy Lee. She recorded signature songs of other artists and made them her own. "Imagine" never sounded more hopeful, and although I love Sting's "Fields of Gold", when Eva sings the words, she transcends the original. Eva covered every music genre...jazz, blues, country, folk, gospel, pop standards...and did them all in a way that was uniquely hers.

What is truly tragic about Eva's story is the fact that all of her success came posthumously. She had a fairly large following in her native Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas where she played the blues clubs and small venues, but she never enjoyed worldwide fame and fortune. She would have been so happy to know that some of the great singers and songwriters whose music she loved and performed would come to love and respect her work in return.

It was said that Eva was never able to get a major recording contract because her music couldn't be categorized and pigeonholed. Her choices in music were too varied. To me that just shows that she had a love and understanding of all music, not just one genre.

Many people who know Eva's music choose "Over the Rainbow" as their favorite Eva Cassidy song. It is a hauntingly beautiful rendition, there's no doubt, but this is my favorite, for a personal reason:

This song was sung for Joshua on May 6, 2006, by his dad's cousin Mark, in his beautiful tenor voice.

The quoted text is from author Dave Eggers.