EVA CASSIDY: SONGBIRD on BBC Radio 2: The first and the best, though not currently available for online listening. Written and produced by the BBC’s Kevin Howlett, and narrated by Sir Terry Wogan, this hour-long radio “appreciation” was first broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on December 29th, 1999. It’s marvelous — it’s my favorite of all the documentaries about Eva, despite the fact that it is “only” radio and therefore does not have pictures. The program was researched and recorded long before Eva’s album SONGBIRD hit the top of the charts in the UK and Ireland, before “Evamania” became big business, before NPR and ABC Nightline, before the books, before the figure skaters, before everything, in fact, except for this web site. It includes interviews with Eva’s parents, her friends, her manager, and the members of the Eva Cassidy Band, with excerpts from songs such as “The Rose” which will never be on any albums. All the musical excerpts were well-chosen, and I especially appreciated the fact that they were fairly long, not just tiny “sound bites” that don’t allow the listener to focus on what they’re hearing. Also notable in this program is producer Chris Biondo’s outspoken indignation about the record industry overlooking Eva for so many years. In fact, the next day he told me, “Never again! I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not doing any more interviews because I never seem to know when to keep my mouth shut.” He was angry with himself, not with the BBC, and concerned that his negative comments about the record industry would upset people. I told him that his bitterness was certainly justified in this case! As far as I can tell, the program is not available to hear online anywhere. Several times lately I have noticed CDs of the program for sale on eBay, so it’s worth keeping your eye out for it. The date might vary, as the program was broadcast several times. The pertinent detail is the involvement of Kevin Howlett. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this documentary could be broadcast in the United States?)
NPR MORNING EDITION STORY: NPR’s arts reporter Elizabeth Blair presented an excellent segment about Eva on December 20, 2000. Click here to listen to it via RealAudio (it’s a SMIL file, go figure). Or click here to read a transcript. The segment received a lot of attention, brought Eva’s music to the top of Amazon’s charts, and even took on a new life on NPR as a “Driveway Moment,” which they defined thus: “What is a ‘Driveway Moment’? Maybe it’s happened to you as it has to countless others… You’re driving home, listening to a story on NPR. Suddenly, you find yourself in your driveway (or parking space or parking garage). Rather than turn the radio off, you stay in your car to hear the piece to the end. It’s a driveway moment.” Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of idling vehicles in driveways on the morning of December 20, 2000.
ABC NIGHTLINE PROGRAM: This television program, first broadcast in the United States on May 21, 2001, was enormously influential in bringing Eva Cassidy’s music to the attention of music lovers in her own country. You can view it on the ABC website. (If that link doesn’t work, just search “abc news” nightline “eva cassidy” rainbow.)
Here’s the backstory: It all started with veteran newsman Dave Marash, who left a message via Guestbook on this web site, asking whom to contact about a possible television feature about Eva. I quickly put him in touch with Eva’s parents, their lawyer, and Blix Street Records. Everybody was cautiously excited about the idea, and Marash won over the cautious by showing a previous musical profile he had made for Nightline, about singer/songwriter Steve Earle. It was insightful, warm and respectful. Dave Marash really seemed to “get” Eva. He was a fan, and a familiar, trusted face and voice from his years as a local news anchor on WRC in the Washington area, and an Emmy-award-winning journalist. The family said yes.
In late April of 2001, David Marash came to town with the segment’s producer, Madhulika Sikka, and the camera crew. They filmed in several locations, including Barbara and Hugh Cassidy’s home in Bowie, Maryland, and interviewed many of Eva’s family, friends, and colleagues. Everybody seemed pleased. Here are a couple of photos.
Then the exciting news came that a broadcast date had been set. On May 21, the show’s Executive Producer Leroy Sievers sent this marvelous e-mail to the “Nightline” mailing list:
“TONIGHT’S SUBJECT: One singer recently had the number one CD on the British charts, and five CD’s in the top 150. On top of that, she was an American. But the real story is that she passed away a few years ago, and never saw her success.
It’s always been a cliché, and the plot of many bad movies, the artist who dies and whose work is suddenly worth millions, and I think the movies usually had the artists faking their deaths, or something like that. Our broadcast tonight is the real-life version of this, but without the cynicism.
The way Nightline works, the correspondents and producers pitch story ideas to us, and Ted [Koppel] and the senior producers and I decide which ones to go ahead and do. One of the Nightline principles is that, even if we don’t much like the idea, if the person pitching it really cares, I mean really really cares, we generally say go ahead, because if someone is passionate about a story, chances are the broadcast will be pretty good. That’s what happened in this case. I admit it, I wasn’t wild about it when Dave Marash first pitched it. But he believed in this story, and so we present it tonight. And by the way, he was right, I was wrong. But I want to let him tell you about it himself, so here’s his note about Eva Cassidy.”
A U.S. Singer Enjoys Success Abroad — Five Years After Her Death
By Dave Marash
May 25 — Like almost everyone, I missed Eva Cassidy the first time… the real time, the live time.
This was, originally, an embarrassment to someone who considered himself a “maven” of Washington-area music: to be told by an old friend (an out-of-towner, no less!) that I had to hear the CD of this “great singer from your town.” Once I did hear Eva Cassidy’s music, in 1997, I became an immediate and intense fan. My embarrassment turned to deep regret that I had never heard her sing before she died of cancer the year before, at the age of 33.
I tried to make up for it by pressing her CDs on dozens of people I knew would love them. Cassidy’s “Over the Rainbow” was the first tune played on my traveling stereo in my hotel room at the end of almost every shooting day I spent in the Balkans during the years 1998 and 1999, years spent mostly in, or just outside, the tortured Kosovo. My crewmates and I were witnessing guerrilla wars, waves of ethnic cleansing, and the destruction and disruption of hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet we would follow the days of painful witness with nights of Eva’s heartfelt invocation of that place “where the clouds are far behind me.” We all knew it was a strange conjunction, but we all drew comfort from it.
Then, shortly after the first of this year, I learned from some of my English colleagues, who had joined in those hotel room listening sessions, that Eva Cassidy was all the rage on BBC Radio and TV. By March, her CD Songbird was No. 1 on the BBC “Top of the Pops 2” album chart, and five of her discs were in the British Top 150. People all over the U.K. were clearly hearing the same ravishing beauties in Eva’s music that had won me over.
This wonderful, “fame after death, after life in obscurity” story was too good to ignore, and besides, it gave me a chance to posthumously “meet” the singer I had loved for years.
How I loved learning that the sweet singer could be a tough cookie who carried her own gear and sacrificed her “career” to a conviction that she could sing only songs she cared about. Eva’s second “fault” was that she cared about and insisted on singing songs in just about every musical style she heard, from pop to folk to jazz to gospel. America’s format-defined music industry could not handle that either.
So for the most part, Eva Cassidy’s musical career never happened until her music was heard in another country, in another hemisphere, years after her death.
Now we all know.
As it says in the title of another of Eva’s best songs, “What a Wonderful World!”
Dave Marash is a Nightline correspondent and guest anchor.
The broadcast was successful beyond everyone’s wildest expectations. Album sales soared. SONGBIRD hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop Catalog Albums and Top Internet Albums charts. Certainly traffic on my website was greater in one day than the entire previous year. The next thing we knew, ABC planned a re-broadcast, announced thus by executive producer Sievers: “A lot of you wrote in after our broadcast on Eva Cassidy, the singer who found fame after she had passed away. Our plan is to rebroadcast that program the night of July 4th, so tell your friends and set your VCR’s.” Sievers told Billboard Magazine, “There was just such an overwhelming E-mail response to the program, people asking us to show it again, or saying they rushed out to get the album and they were all sold out…. I mean, the response was stronger than anything we’ve ever aired.”
Dave Marash e-mailed me, “Can’t tell you how pleased I am with the overwhelming response to the Nightline broadcasts. All hail Eva!”
Producer Madhulika Sikka won an award from the South Asian Journalists Association in the category “Outstanding story on any subject (TV/radio),” for producing the ABC “Nightline” documentary.
On August 15th, 2002, ABC again rebroadcast their original “Nightline” story about Eva, this time on the UPCLOSE section of their show. To promote it they paraphrased an observation made by Eva’s friend Ruth Murphy: “Others do the talking. She does the singing. Tonight, Eva Cassidy, UpClose.” Following that rebroadcast, Eva’s albums were for several days #1-2-3-4-5 at Amazon.com. It was aired one more time on January 1, 2004, following which Leroy Sievers commented, “This remains probably the most popular Nightline ever. Reading the emails today, the morning after it ran, I was struck by the number of people who wrote in asking when we are going to play it again. I’m sure we will rerun it at some point in the future, but not for a while.” Since that time, however, “Nightline” has changed its format, David Marash and Madhulika Sikka left the network, and Leroy Sievers died in 2008 after chronicling his own battle with cancer on NPR and in the New York Times, as befitting a veteran newsman.
The program is available to purchase on DVD from ABC News via Amazon (search for “Eva Cassidy” and Nightline or ABC), or see the link above to the ABC website.