OK, between The Last Town Chorus, Mazzy Star and Carla Bruni, you might think that all I ever listen to is mellow music sung by waify chicks. I assure you that that’s not the case… but I did want to turn you on to this tune. It’s a cover of Sting’s “Fields of Gold” by Eva Cassidy.
Eva Cassidy was born in Washington D.C. on February 2, 1963. Although she could sing just about anything – her repertoire included jazz, blues, folk, gospel and pop – Eva had a hard time getting noticed outside the Washington D.C. area. Her first band was called Easy Street, and they performed mainly at weddings, corporate parties and area pubs. She then got a singing gig at Wild World (Six Flags) in Maryland, then went on to sing in D.C.-area bands such as The Honeybees and Characters Without Names (later called Method Actor). During most of the 80s, Eva had to work side jobs to pay the bills, such as being a plant propagator at a nursery and as a furniture painter in Maryland.
Eva’s luck began to change in 1992. D.C. jazz legend Chuck Brown got a hold of a cassette tape of Eva singing and was enchanted. This quickly led to Eva doing a duet album with Brown, and record companies began scrambling to sign her up. Sadly (for us), all these labels wanted to whittle Eva down to a single genre, something she flat-out refused to do. So she recorded a single here, a duet there until January 1996, when she recorded Live at Blues Alley. Eva wasn’t happy with the album, as she had a cold the night the album was recorded.
Sadly, she wouldn’t have time to record much more: in July of 1996, she noticed a pain in her hip, which she attributed to the awkward stances she had to take whilst painting some murals. When the pain didn’t go away and, in fact, got worse, she went to her doctor, who diagnosed her with melanoma. She would be dead in 4 months time. At her final performance in September 1996, Eva took the stage with the aid of a walker, sang “What A Wonderful World”, and was then taken to Johns Hopkins, which she never left. She died on November 2, 1996.
Knowing that makes her version of “Fields of Gold” just that much sadder. It’s a haunting thing, and it exemplifies what was best about Eva Cassidy: the ability to cut through the treacle and get to the heart of a song. If you hate “melismatic masturbation” – the annoying tendency of singers like Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera to run up and down the scales simply because they can – then you’ll love Eva Cassidy. Her music is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. Have a listen:
Eva’s posthumous career has been huge in the UK. In 2001, the compilation album Songbird (from which “Fields of Gold” is taken) reached #1 after the BBC show Top Of The Pops 2 aired a video of Eva performing “Over The Rainbow” at Blues Alley. “Over The Rainbow” became the most requested video ever shown of Top Of The Pops 2 despite the fact it was just a homemade video made by someone in the audience. A book about Eva’s life – also called Songbird – sold over 100,000 copies in the UK. And, in 2003, another compilation album called American Tune became Eva’s third consecutive posthumous #1 album in the UK – a feat that even Elvis Presley or Jimi Hendrix couldn’t do.
God bless, Eva. Your beautiful voice haunts us still!