Thursday 18th March 2021 is the 20th anniversary of Eva Cassidy’s ‘Songbird‘ album becoming No.1 in the UK album chart. Originally released in 1998, 2 years after Eva’s death, it took a record-breaking 133 weeks to reach the top of the Official UK Album Chart, the most time any album has taken between release and becoming the UK No.1. The album spent a total of 6 months in the UK Top 10.
‘Songbird‘ was Eva Cassidy’s first posthumously released album after she tragically died of melanoma aged 33 in November 1996. Critically acclaimed on release, the album is now 6x Platinum in the UK and has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.
‘Songbird‘ paved the way for an unparalleled posthumous career including further No.1 UK albums in 2002 and 2003 and a No.1 duet single in 2007. Eva Cassidy has achieved 10 UK Gold albums, a feat only matched by 10 other female artists including Madonna, Kate Bush and Kylie Minogue, 4+million UK album sales, 10+million worldwide album sales, more than 1.2 billion worldwide streams.
Now famed around the world for her moving interpretations of classics such as ‘Over the Rainbow‘, ‘Fields of Gold‘ and ‘Time After Time‘, Eva Cassidy’s music has featured in films such as Love Actually and Maid in Manhattan as well as the current Netflix hit drama Firefly Lane.
Eva was recently celebrated in a documentary ‘Eva Cassidy – One Night That Changed Everything‘.
Eva Cassidy‘s album ‘Songbird‘ was initially released by independent label Blix Street Records in April, 1998. The posthumous release, an anthology of recordings by the Washington, DC-based singer who had died in November of 1996, is comprised of four tracks from her first solo album, ‘Live At Blues Alley‘ (taken from her January 3, 1996 performance with her band at the Georgetown jazz club and locally released a few months before she died); five tracks from ‘Eva By Heart‘, the studio album she was recording at the time of her passing, posthumously released locally a year after she died; and one track (Over The Rainbow) from ‘The Other Side‘, a 1992 collection of jazz and blues duets with Washington’s Chuck Brown.
Upon her death, Eva Cassidy’s voice reached global recognition with her masterful interpretations of ‘Fields of Gold‘, ‘Autumn Leaves‘, ‘Songbird‘ and ‘Over the Rainbow‘, songs. Crossing all boundaries–musical, cultural, geographical–her voice continues to find new listeners every day. “She sang for the pure joy of singing”, her mother, Barbara Cassidy, has said, “however, the spirit would move her”.
The title-‘Songbird‘-was taken from Eva’s included cover of the Christine McVie classic that has closed many a Fleetwood Mac concert. ‘Live At Blues Alley‘ and ‘Eva By Heart‘ were both later released by Blix Street in the summer of 1998. The worldwide recognition for Eva’s music began with ‘Fields of Gold‘ and ‘Over the Rainbow‘ (the song played on BBC Radio 2 by Terry Wogan). People Magazine wrote at the time: “Whether in jazz, folk, or inspirational music, Cassidy’s potential was huge, and this album stands as a testament to popular music’s loss”.
Two years later, as 2000 drew to a close, a video of Eva performing ‘Over the Rainbow‘ from the Blues Alley concert aired on Top of the Pops 2 on BBC2 and was re-broadcast in January, 2001 following a wave of requests from viewers. The re-broadcast catapulted the ‘Songbird‘ album to the top of the UK and Irish album charts on March 18, 2001, igniting a media storm in the U.S. where outlets from The Today Show to ABC World News Tonight to CNN weighed in on the phenomenon that was Eva Cassidy. By November of 2001, the fifth anniversary of her passing, ‘Songbird‘ had been certified triple platinum in the UK for sales of more than 900,000.
In recent years, Eva Cassidy has become the standard for a younger generation of female singers. Her influence is documented in ‘Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice‘, a 2013 television program. Adele has been quoted as saying: “So I used to dress up like a Slipknot fan, and then after school I’d run home and listen to Eva Cassidy.”
Every year brings countless new uses of her music in films, television and beyond–from USA Ladies Figure Skating Champion Michelle Kwan skating to Eva’s ‘Fields of Gold‘ during the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City to the inclusion of her ‘Songbird‘ performance in the film Love Actually (2003) to a 2007 BBC poll ranking Eva Cassidy 21st on a list of “100 Voices of the 20th Century” to the 67th Annual Emmy Awards using her signature version of ‘Over the Rainbow‘ to underscore the 2015 award show’s In Memoriam tribute honoring the passing of major television industry figures during the prior year to the continuing use of her arrangements and recordings on talent shows such as The X Factor, The Voice, American Idol, America’s Got Talent and Dancing With The Stars.
Her catalogue of recordings began when she wandered into producer Chris Biondo’s studio in Kensington, Maryland USA to sing on a band’s demo to make extra money. Biondo, impressed with her talent, asked her to come back so he could record her as a soloist, eventually introducing her to Washington’s “King of Go-Go” Chuck Brown. In 1992, ‘The Other Side‘, a collection of Brown and Cassidy duets (plus her solo version of Over the Rainbow) was released by nationally Liaison Records.
Eva worked in a plant nursery by day to fulfill her desire to be close to nature and played in local clubs around her native Washington, DC by night, developing a loyal following for her intensely personal, highly eclectic musical style. Unable to secure a record deal she was happy with, Eva cashed in a small pension from her job to pay for the recording of her first album, ‘Live At Blues Alley‘, in 1996. She was backed by her band – producer Chris Biondo on bass, pianist Lenny Williams, lead guitarist Keith Grimes and drummer Raice McLeod. Nobody could have imagined that the audio and video recordings captured that night would prove to be the foundation of Eva Cassidy’s unparalleled posthumous international success. Cassidy and Biondo were also at work on a studio album which would become ‘Eva By Heart‘. It was completed by Biondo and released locally by Liaison Records almost a year after Eva’s death.
After she was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 33, Blix Street recording artist Grace Griffith sent Eva’s music to her label’s president Bill Straw. Straw heard the original ‘Live At Blues Alley‘ album in late September of 1996, shortly before Eva died. “By the time I finished listening to the whole album, I knew I had heard one of the best singers ever”, he recalls. “I knew she was going to be famous, but also knew she would not live to enjoy it. I drove around listening to her cassette in my car for months before contacting her parents about marketing their daughter’s music”.
- Fields of Gold
- Wade In The Water
- Autumn Leaves
- Wayfaring Stranger
- Time Is A Healer
- I Know You By Heart
- People Get Ready
- Oh, Had I A Golden Thread
- Over The Rainbow