You go to Blues Alley, deep in the heart of Washington’s Georgetown, once home to everyone from the Founding Fathers to the hippies of the 60’s and 70’, to have a good meal, a few drinks, and hear some good music while enjoying the company of friends. Most times the singers come on the small stage the place quiets down to a low murmur of conversation. The singer sings and the audience listens with a casual attitude towards the music.
The night that Eva Cassidy sang it was as if, like the words in one of her songs, “… you could hear the angels singing in the cooing of a dove”. And, that dove was a little blond hair girl from Bowie, Maryland just around the beltway. When the announcer tried to quiet the crowd with, “Here’s Eva Cassiday”. They responded with that polite suckin’ on ice cubes applause. Stepping up to the mic making the adjustments, shy, never looking out at the people who were only casually looking at her, she began with an old Fred Astair and Ginger Roger’s show tune, “Cheek to Cheek”. What was this, an old time movie song in this hip, campy nightspot.
Eva Cassidy not only sang it, she owned and sold it shedding her shy self and rearing back and belting it out with all the confidence in the world. You could hear a pin drop in the house, no chewing sound or ice tinkling; then hand hurting clapping. From that song she set them up and laid them down one by one. It takes some real chutzpa to step out in front of a pseudo aficianado music crowd and open yourself by taking on the masters: the eclectic list goes on, Irving Berin, T. Bone Walker, Paul Simon, the great Billie Holiday, the eerie sounds of Buffy St. Marie to the lusty R&B of Al Green, even the toe tapping “Honey Suckle Rose” of Fats Waller. But take she did. Not to imitate, nor, “try to be like,” she made these songs her own. Not wanting to compare but you have to think of the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Janis when she exposes her vulnerabilities as if saying, “This is me and my music, I hope you like it, but if you don’t there is nothing I can do about it. It’s all I have”.
On November 2, 1996 we lost Eva Cassidy, but we still have her music thanks to modern technology. We can sit back and listen to her now, but we will never be able to hear the best she was going to do; she was just beginning.
“ For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, 'It might have been'.”