Songs and performers speak to us based on our own experiences. A few years ago I picked up an album by Eva Cassisdy and her voice carried me away. I liked the way she seemed equally at home with jazz and ballads and her story seemed to come through in the way she spoke through her music.
I wrote Eva Cassidy's Message (Granite Grumblings, Life in the "Live Free or Die State", 2011) a few years ago, but her music and the message of the essay are as applicable today as they ever were.
I wish I could play the music for you, but I am sure it is available on Utube and it is well-worth finding.
Glenn K. Currie
Eva Cassidy's Message
I was downtown the other day, trying to track down a CD by a performer for whom I had only half a name. As usual, Mike was able to sort out the mystery. But, knowing that I am always looking for interesting voices, he also asked me to listen to a couple of cuts from another album. And he told me the story of Eva Cassidy, a young woman whose life was cut short by melanoma at the age of 33.
It’s hard to describe the emotions that I felt as I sat at home and quietly listened to her CD. Many of the songs were old standards. They were a mix of gospel, a little Irving Berlin, some folk and blues; actually the whole American musical experience seemed in some way to be wrapped up in it. And every song was a new one.
If I sound like I am contradicting myself, it’s probably because I am. This young lady sang these songs in a way that made them different and unique to her. This pure voice, with a range the breadth of Oklahoma, traveled through me like a midnight train. Quiet vibrations, attention-getting power, a rush of emotions, and then a backflow breeze that left me with chills from my head to my heart. And as I listened, I was overwhelmed with what all of us had lost. As the recordings followed one after the other, her music seemed to speak for all those glorious, talented people in this world who have never had a chance to realize their potential. She seemed to sing for those whose voices and skills were lost to wars and disease and sometimes just bad luck: for John Seel and Dennis Barger and too many other friends from Dartmouth whose lives were cut short by Vietnam, and for Gary Dillon and Michael Briggs and all the other sons and daughters whose lives were never fully lived. People who might have filled our world with humor and friendship and perhaps great art or literature or medical miracles. Eva Cassidy’s soul seemed to pour itself out in these songs, railing against the inequities and reaching for the heavens.
And as the album finally ended, soaring gently into silence, I could only feel an overwhelming sadness, because, in this case, I did indeed know what I had missed. This rare talent cut across all the false musical boundaries of race, religion, culture and style. And as I shut my eyes and listened to the beauty that flowed from “Over the Rainbow”, I could hear her also singing for all those others, whose voices were silently passing with her over that rainbow.