Eva Cassidy, Sirius XM, and Some New Voices

Eva Cassidy

One night in May of 2001 in a small B&B in rural France my wife and I were chatting in front of an open-hearth fireplace with the English expat owners. Five years earlier Ian, a long haul lorry driver, and his wife, Anne, a caterer, decided to chuck it all, leave the UK, and buy a little gite/B&B in France. In the course of our conversation Ian and I discovered that we had shared interests in guitars and contemporary folk music. Later in the evening he asked me if I knew Eva Cassidy’s music? He was shocked when I told him I didn’t. “She’s one of the best singers I’ve ever heard – and she’s American. I can’t believe you don’t know her.” He almost ran to get her CD and play it for us.

Eva Cassidy was an American, born and raised in the Washington DC area where she died of cancer (melanoma) at age 33 in 1996. She was painfully shy and never comfortable as a performer. She recorded only three albums before her passing. Her last, Live at Blues Alley, is my favorite. Eva’s voice and some of her music has made its way into the mainstream now, but she was almost unknown outside a small circle of fans in the Washington DC area when she died.

It’s not clear how a BBC dj heard about her, but around the year 2000 Paul Walters started playing her music on his morning show and the response from his seven million listeners was unprecedented. Before long this unassuming dead woman had three consecutive number one albums in the UK. She remained largely unknown in the US until word spread west from the UK and she began gathering followers. By 2005 she was #5 on the list of Amazon’s All-Time Top 25 Musical Artists – ahead of Elvis, Dylan, Springsteen, The Beatles, and Ray Charles. Her rise on the charts is an improbable story. Her voice and artistry are astonishing. Her musical taste is eclectic. She defies categories. She sings gritty blues and traditional ballads. Danny Boy will break your heart. Stormy Monday will wrench your gut, and her covers of Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready and John Lennon’s Imagine will galvanize and inspire you to change the world.

Winter sports fans might remember Michelle Kwan’s disappointment at the 2002 Winter Olympics when she lost the Gold Medal in women’s figure skating to Sarah Hughes in what would be her final Olympic competition. They might also remember the heartbreakingly beautiful demonstration she gave at the Gala Exhibition following the medal ceremony. For that skate she chose Eva’s rendition of the Sting ballad Fields of Gold. On that night the two artists became one and when it was over the crowd sat in stunned silence before erupting in applause with Michelle in tears and the crowd standing and weeping as well. You can see it all on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wazOhkRuySI

I am always astonished to encounter a new artist whose work is remarkable but virtually unknown. Whether it’s music, dance, visual, or performing art, I am overwhelmed by how much talent – discovered and undiscovered – there is in the world. Eva is not undiscovered and unknown now. The English discovered her when Paul Walters played her version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. There is only one Eva, but I am starting to hear more and more interesting voices and musician poets. Toby Lightman and Lisa Loeb, Jason Mraz and James McMurtry. Our kids are listening to Radiohead and Billy Joe Armstrong, but I have a difficult time leaving the folk-rock/jazz tradition. At the moment I can’t get enough of Jason Mraz. Ignoring the look in the picture below, you might enjoy hearing him tell a story and blend folk with skat-jazz-improv in a new mode. This is a live interview and performance of his signature song I’m Yours: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ttEzMKE0r0. There is nice backstory here that puts it squarely in the folk tradition – but with a twist.

Jason Mraz

I have to confess that my interest in new artists was energized by my introduction to Sirius XM Radio. It has become my guilty pleasure and the key to a world of new music. Last summer, on a long road trip, we were introduced to Sirius. Two friends loaned us their camper van and it had Sirius XM installed. Anywhere, anytime, as long as there is sky above, those satellites beam the music (and sports, and news, and politics and almost anything else you might want) down. No commercials and no BS except right wing talk radio. I’m addicted. There is a Grateful Dead station, a Jimmy Buffett station, there’s Springsteen, Beatles, Singer-Songwriters, Broadway Show Tunes, Opera, Classical, 5 kinds of Country, Hip-Hop, Electronic Dance, Christian, Latino, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s rock,. You want it; Sirius has it, but I find that I’m drawn to the Singer-Songwriter/New Artist channels, the kind of music that motivated me to buy a guitar when I was in my 20’s and listen more closely to the storytelling lyrics. Now I look forward to getting in the car and driving for an hour or two. It’s part of my continuing ed.

I’ve lost touch with Ian and Anne. I’m sure they are still there in rural France, but my recent emails have bounced back. I’d love to see them and thank them for the introduction. Eva’s family has released six more albums since 1996. Some are compilations, but there are new songs on each of them. You can listen to my favorite female singer of all time sing 20 of her songs, uninterrupted, on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeNxrfMrbI8


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