A True Songbird – Eva Cassidy

“You left in autumn, the leaves were turning
I walk down roads [of] orange and gold
I see your sweet smile, I hear your laughter
You’re still here beside me every day . . .
‘Cause I know you by heart . . . “

In November of 1996 the world said goodbye to the great talent that was Eva Cassidy. At the age of just 33, after a short battle with cancer, she passed away in her family home in Maryland US. Eva’s fame would only continue to grow after her death, as new generations discovered her beautiful, soulful voice, and effortless harmonies.

Born in Washington, on February 2nd 1963, Eva Marie Cassidy, was the 3rd child of Hugh and Barbara. Both her Father and her younger brother Danny shared her love of music, with Danny taking up the fiddle around the same time as Eva started singing and playing the guitar. The two were in a band together from a young age, although originally Eva struggled with her shyness, and felt uncomfortable performing in front of strangers. During high school she joined a local band named Stonehenge, and in 1986 she attended Black Pond Studios as a favour to fellow band member, and friend David Lourim, in order to record some vocals for his musical project, it was this which led to her introduction to Al Dale, who would go on to become her manager. Eva first found work as a session singer, singing back up vocals for various bands. However she soon formed The Eva Cassidy band, and began to perform around the Washington area.

The major breakthrough for Eva came in 1992, when she was asked to record a duet album with Chuck Brown, the album named The Other Side turned out to be the only studio album she would ever release during her lifetime. With it came the cover of a song which would go on to be one of Eva’s most famous Over the Rainbow. The Washington Area Music Association honoured her in 1993 with a WAMMIE award, in the Vocalist/Jazz Traditional music category. The following year she was presented with another 2 awards. A live album recorded at The Blue’s Alley in Washington was released in 1996, although Eva had originally been reluctant to release the recording, a technical glitch had meant that out of 2 nights worth of recordings, only 1 was useable, and Eva felt she hadn’t sounded her best due to suffering with a cold at the time. She need not have worried, the album was very well received by both critics and the public, and propelled her musical talent far beyond Washington.

Unfortunately Eva was unable to enjoy her success. She had been plagued with ill health, and various physical problems for some time. In 1993 she’d had a malignant mole removed from her back, and in the months running up to and during the recording of the live album she’d noticed a persistent aching in her hips, she had even taken to using a cane to aid her during gigs. Xrays revealed a hip fracture and surgery was scheduled for August 21st 1996. Pre op tests revealed cancer in a lung, and further investigations carried out at John Hopkins University confirmed that the cancer had spread throughout Eva’s bones. It was at this point she was told her cancer was terminal; she had just months to live. Eva started an intensive course of chemotherapy, determined to fight, and to ride her bike again, and take trips to the countryside with her beloved mom, with whom she’d shared a tradition of taking Sunday trips out surrounded by nature. However it simply wasn’t meant to be.

In the early autumn of 1996 Eva gave her last public appearance at a benefit concert at The Bayou, she closed her set with “What a Wonderful World”. A month before her death she finally recorded a song which she’d previously attempted to record in 1993, it was called “I know you by Heart”, and she sang it alongside her brother Danny playing his violin.
On November 2nd 1996 Eva passed away, her wish was to be cremated and for her ashes to be scattered by the lake in St Mary’s River Watershed Nature Reserve in Maryland.

Eva Cassidy has released 10 albums posthumously, and even bagged herself a number 1 in the UK with a duet of What a Wonderful World with Katie Melua, 11 years after her death. Her voice continues to enchant the hearts of those who listen to her singing.

Below is a link to the recording of “I know you by Heart”