NPR Transcript

Transcript of National Public Radio “Morning Edition” story about Eva Cassidy, December 20, 2000

Profile: Deceased singer Eva Cassidy still touching people with her music four years after her death


NPR: Morning Edition Copyright 2000 National Public Radio, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

BOB EDWARDS, host: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Bob Edwards.

This year, NPR’s been featuring what it considers the 100 most significant American musical works of the century. The BBC has a similar lists, and one of its choices is a little-known American singer named Eva Cassidy. She died in 1996 at the age of 33, yet still outsells some of Britain’s biggest stars. NPR’s Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR reporting: Eva Cassidy only released one solo album while she was alive. It was recorded at Blues Alley in Washington, DC.

(Soundbite from Eva Cassidy recording) (Soundbite of guitar music) Ms. EVA CASSIDY (Singer): This is one that I used to listen to when I was a little, little kid. My parents had this record, and I’d listen to it over and over. And I’ve been wanting to do this song for a really long time. It’s called “Tall Trees in Georgia.”

BLAIR: Besides singing, Eva Cassidy’s other love was the outdoors. (Soundbite from “Tall Trees in Georgia”) Ms. E. CASSIDY: (Singing) Tall trees in Georgia, they grow so high. They shade me so. And sadly walking through the thicket I go.

BLAIR: Almost every Sunday, Eva and her mother, Barbara Cassidy, took long walks or bike rides in the woods.

Ms. BARBARA CASSIDY (Eva’s Mother): And she was so aware of all the beauty that I would have just passed by. But she saw it with her artistic eyes, everything from the smallest bug on to the biggest tree. I can still picture her, maybe in a field of red clover, and we would stop–ride our bicycles and stop and make a big bouquet. And these were some of the very best times in my life. (Soundbite
from “Fields of Gold”) Ms. E. CASSIDY: (Singing) You’ll remember me when the west winds moves among the fields of barley. You can tell the sun in its jealous sky when we walked in fields of gold. So she took…

BLAIR: The Cassidys’ house in suburban Maryland is filled with the paintings and drawings Eva had made since she was a little girl.

Ms. B. CASSIDY: This one, too, is one of my favorites. This depicts my four children. The oldest is Anette, Margret, there’s Eva and Dan, with his pointed head. And she’d made this for me Mother’s Day–and can I read the back side? It’s May 10, 1992. `To the most wonderful mother that ever lived in the universe. I love you so much. Love, Eva.’

BLAIR: Eva Cassidy was always making gifts for friends. Around this time of year, she’d be making Christmas presents, like the one she made for her manager, Al Dale, in 1992.

Mr. AL DALE (Former Manager for Eva Cassidy): And I had a Christmas tree up, and I had this nice angel on the top of my tree. And she looked at my tree and she said, `Al, you need a black angel at the top of your tree,’ like that. Lo and behold, she made me a gorgeous black angel with a guitar hanging down–it was so cool–and had him dressed in an African outfit, you know. I mean, but that was Eva.

BLAIR: Al Dale says when he first heard Eva Cassidy, he thought she was black. (Soundbite from Eva Cassidy recording) Ms. E. CASSIDY: (Singing) Oh, had I a golden thread, and a needle so fine. (Soundbite of organ playing)

BLAIR: Many people, Al Dale included, had a hard time believing that such a powerful voice came from a small, blonde, fair-skinned woman often described as a waif. At first, Eva Cassidy didn’t even try for a solo career. Like her mom, she was content to tend plants at a local nursery and do a little backup singing for rock and R&B groups. At one recording session, she met bassist and record producer Chris Biondo.

Mr. CHRIS BIONDO (Record Producer): She never thought she was good enough to be a solo artist. She thought that she–her goal was to sing backup for Stevie Wonder one day, and that would have been as good as it could have ever been for her. She didn’t think that she deserved to be a lead singer.

BLAIR: But Biondo did. He helped her make some demo recordings, which he played for another artist who was working at his studio, the godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown. Brown decided he and Cassidy should record an album of standards together.

(Soundbite from song) Ms. E. CASSIDY: (Singing) I could have told you she’d hurt you, love you awhile and then desert you. If only you’d asked, I could have told you so. Mr. CHUCK BROWN (Singer): (Singing) I could have saved you some crying…

BLAIR: Recording with Brown brought Eva Cassidy recognition and the confidence to make an album of her own. She hoped to do it for a major label, but her insistence on singing everything from folk to jazz to gospel apparently scared off marketing executives. So Cassidy and her band put up their own money to record “Live at Blues Alley.” (Soundbite from “People Get Ready”) Ms. E. CASSIDY: (Singing) People get ready for the train to Georgia, picking up passengers from coast to coast. Faith is the key, open the doors and board them. There’s room for all of the love and …(unintelligible).

BLAIR: The album was released in June, 1996. It was one of the best-selling albums in DC that year. Two months later, Eva Cassidy was diagnosed with melanoma. Her father, Hugh, says it was caused by all the time she spent outside and her job at the nursery.

Mr. HUGH CASSIDY (Eva’s Father): She worked outside with the guys, and she’d be loading up trucks and doing all sorts of things without a hat and without proper covering, you know. This was before we were all painfully aware of the fact that the sunlight that you get is cumulative on the skin. So it’s rather ironic that her love for the light and the bright was her undoing.

BLAIR: Shortly after Eva Cassidy was diagnosed, producer Chris Biondo went about finishing the songs that were intended for her second solo album. (Soundbite from Eva Cassidy recording) Ms. E. CASSIDY: (Singing) You left in autumn, the leaves were turning. I walked down roads of orange and gold.

BLAIR: Eva Cassidy died on November 2nd, 1996. Since then, four records have been released, including one this fall. They haven’t received much radio air play here, but in Britain she’s one of the BBC’s most requested vocalists. BBC Radio 2 produced a one-hour documentary on Cassidy, and her version of “Over the Rainbow” was selected by listeners as one of the top 100 songs of the century.

(Soundbite from “Over the Rainbow”) Ms. E. CASSIDY: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high.

BLAIR: Eva Cassidy’s friends say she never really understood how much her music touched people until she got sick. As for becoming a star or making lots of money, Barbara Cassidy says that never was her daughter’s goal.

Ms. B. CASSIDY: She really had a very, very hard time just coping with all the everyday things of life, because she was an artist through and through, and she forever had creative ideas, you know. And maybe six months before she passed away and before we knew how really ill she was, I was walking with her, and she said, `You know, Mom, if I were to die, I wouldn’t regret it because I’ve always been allowed to create.’

BLAIR: For NPR News, I’m Elizabeth Blair in Washington.

(Soundbite from Eva Cassidy recording) Ms.E. CASSIDY: (Singing) Oooh, oh, oooh.

EDWARDS: It’s 11 minutes before the hour.