Music Monday: The Silken Soprano Voice of the Late Eva Cassidy

Once again the serendipity of the Internet worked its magic. I was trying to come up with some ideas for this week’s Music Monday when I thought a post on the most popular wedding songs and funeral songs would be interesting, particularly if there were any songs that were on both lists.

As I started to look at a few of the lists of the most popular wedding and funeral songs, I saw mention of Somewhere Over the Rainbow as a popular funeral song and it noted that it has been recorded by a variety of artists besides Judy Garland, including Ariana Grande and Eva Cassidy.

Since it is one of my favorite songs, and I had never heard of Eva Cassidy, I decided to see if I could find a video of her performing the song on YouTube. Fortunately, I found the video, and it is a beautiful rendition:

After hearing her sing, I decided to find out more about her, and came across her Wikipedia page.

Cassidy was an American singer and guitarist known for her interpretations of jazz and blues. In 1992, she released her first album, The Other Side, a set of duets with go-go musician Chuck Brown, followed by the 1996 live solo album titled Live at Blues Alley. Although she had been honored by the Washington Area Music Association, she was virtually unknown outside her native Washington, D.C..

in July 1996, tests found that cancer had spread to Cassidy’s bones, as well as to her lungs. Her doctors estimated she had three to five months to live. Cassidy opted for aggressive treatment, but her health deteriorated rapidly. On September 17, at a benefit concert for her at the Bayou, she made her final public appearance, closing the set with “What a Wonderful World” in front of an audience of family, friends, and fans. While the video below is not from that performance, you can just feel the emotion in her voice as she sings this classic song:

Two years after her death, Cassidy’s music was brought to the attention of British audiences, when her versions of “Fields of Gold” and “Over the Rainbow” were played by Mike Harding and Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2. Following the overwhelming response, a camcorder recording of “Over the Rainbow”, taken at Blues Alley in Washington by her friend Bryan McCulley, was shown on BBC Two’s Top of the Pops 2. Shortly afterward, the compilation album Songbird climbed to the top of the UK Albums Chart, almost three years after its initial release. The New York Times noted 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.” The chart success in the United Kingdom and Ireland led to increased recognition worldwide. Her posthumously released recordings, including three number-one albums and one number-one single in the UK, have sold more than ten million copies.

Jazz critic Ted Gioia writes, “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.”

In 2005, released a list of its top 25 best-selling musicians, which placed Cassidy in the fifth position, behind The Beatles, U2, Norah Jones and Diana Krall.

That’s quite the list.

While I could include videos of all of her songs, I’ll just share a couple more since they are covers of some of my all-time favorite songs:

All I can say is that Eva had a voice for the ages, and it’s a shame that she didn’t have the chance to share her gift with the world for more years. But fortunately her music lives on, and for that, we should be grateful.