At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, America’s figure skating sweetheart, Michelle Kwan, was considered the favorite to take home the gold medal. Although she finished a disappointing third claiming the bronze it was her performance during the next night’s exhibition that took truly took home the gold in the hearts of anyone within earshot.
She elegantly and angelically skated to Fields of Gold, a beautifully poetic song written by Sting. Kwan was at one with the song as was its singer. But it was the voice that carried that song to the heavens or perhaps from heaven itself that made Kwan’s skating even more exceptional. That night Kwan’s performance introduced millions to the voice of Eva Cassidy, a singer that transcended that song and any she takes on.
In the 2006 season of American Idol, finalist Kathleen McPhee sang an eloquent rendition of Over The Rainbow. Though her delivery was strong it lacked the spiritual transcendence of the rendition that inspired it. The version of the song that prompted McPhee’s performance was none other than that of Eva Cassidy. Multiple GrammyÂ® winner Mary Chapin Carpenter is said to have recalled nearly falling off of her couch when she first heard Cassidy’s voice.
Later in the spring of 2002, Kwan once again skated to Fields of Gold, this time at the Hershey’s Kisses Great American Figure Skating Challenge. Former world and Olympic figure skating champion Peggy Fleming was one of the TV commentators for that event.
“She’s skating to Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy who died very young,” Fleming said. “Michelle picked this music early in the season in tribute to lost lives and unfulfilled dreams, and it’s really taken on an whole new meaning this season.”
Life After Passing On
Cassidy is one of those rare artists whose notoriety is only realized after she has passed on. In 1996, Eva Cassidy died of cancer (melanoma) at the age of 33.
I grew up roughly 40 miles from where she lived in the suburban outskirts of Washington D.C. Eva Cassidy was in Maryland, and I was in Virginia. It amazes me that it took nearly decade for me to even hear about her, let alone that amazing voice.
She was well-known in the D.C. area and had an appreciative following. But it was her eclectic sensibility, her knack for relating to so many styles of music that befuddled those who wanted to restrain her, to package her in a way that more clearly defined the market. The concept of a singer’s singer is unfortunately lost on mass marketing. Her transcendental artistry could not be so neatly boxed up and sold.
Her Singing Transcends
Once you hear her sing, you’ll know what I mean by transcendent. She sings from the heights and depths of the spirit. So it seems strangely fitting that she would come into her own after passing on, from a place in the spirit. Cassidy sang in a variety of styles from Gospel to jazz to blues to pop. She made every song her own.
Another strange phenomenon for all too many truly gifted American artists is that she first gained attention in the United Kingdom, topping the charts with a number of her posthumous projects. Four and a half years after her death from melanoma, her posthumous album, Songbird, reached number one on the U.K. charts selling more than a million copies.
Sometimes I think we as a culture get so caught up in slick packaging and hip, trendy marketing that we often overlook the real deal, the true gems, those angels among us like Cassidy.
Experience Eva Cassidy
Currently there are nine CD’s of her work that are available. Aside from her definitive versions of Fields of Gold and Over The Rainbow, she uncovers layers of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Tim, with such grace and poignancy.
Cassidy’s fan base continues to grow worldwide with devotees in Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Canada, Japan and France, to name a few. There is even a bio-pic in the works that will further bring her music and spirit to our consciousness.
If you want to know what a true singer and real communicator should do with a song, you need to listen to Eva Cassidy. She surrendered herself to each song she sang. When you listen to Eva Cassidy it is the very breath of life inviting the soul to dance. Visit www.evacassidy.org for more information on her life, her music and those she continues to touch.