At the time of her death, Eva Cassidy was unknown outside her home town of Washington, DC. She was only 33 when she died from bone cancer, just three months after diagnosis. Thankfully for us, this singer left behind an extraordinary legacy.
Fans of Cassidy say that she could sing anything – folk, blues, pop, jazz, R&B, gospel – and make it sound like it was the only music that mattered. You only have to hear her haunting interpretation of Somewhere Over The Rainbow to know this is true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to Cassidy singing that song and I still get goosebumps.
Then there’s Cassidy’s version of Sting’s Fields of Gold. And don’t get me started on Songbird. Cassidy takes Fleetwood Mac’s lyrics and makes them her own. I defy anyway to be unmoved when this young woman sings “For you, there’ll be no crying, For you, the sun will be shining, ‘Cause I feel that when I’m with you, It’s alright”.
It might seem hard to believe now but it was Terry Wogan who discovered Cassidy and was responsible for promoting Somewhere Over The Rainbow to the number one slot. The compilation album Songbird also climbed to the top of the UK Albums Charts, almost three years after its initial release.
Today, Cassidy has a devoted following, among them television and theatre actress Nicole Faraday, best known for her portrayal of Snowball Merriman in ITV’s Bad Girls. Faraday’s acting credits are too numerous to mention here but you’ll probably recognise her from, among other shows, Casualty, Emmerdale and The Bill.
However, Faraday’s passion is for singing: she performs regularly and originated the role of Shell Dockley in the musical of Bad Girls. Now she is appearing in her third tour as Eva Cassidy in Over the Rainbow.
“I’ve been performing Eva Cassidy’s material anyway as a singer and actress in my own cabarets so it’s something that’s very close to my heart,” Faraday tells Northern Soul. “It’s unbelievable that she died in our own lifetime. In Europe, she’s second only to Elvis in posthumous record sales. That’s amazing.”
Since its first performance in 2004, Over the Rainbow has garnered five star reviews and enjoyed a number of revivals. It charts Cassidy’s life, from her childhood growing up in a musical family, all the way to her premature death in 1996.
“Before she died, Eva was getting local notoriety in Washington,” explains Faraday. “But she never had a recording deal, probably because she had so many different styles.”
Over the Rainbow includes 27 of Cassidy’s best-loved songs. So, which is Faraday’s favourite?
“Well, I’ve sung Songbird at quite a few of my friends’ weddings. It is my favourite to sing. I like singing sad songs, for instance I really like Autumn Leaves. That happens towards the end of the show. I think it’s so beautiful, it always makes me nearly cry, and people feel emotional about it.
“She did so many different styles, from gospel-type stuff through to folk to rock, jazz and blues. For me, it’s a big challenge singing 30-odd of her songs every night. I like to get them as accurate as possible.”
Faraday says that Cassidy fans travel from the continent to see Over the Rainbow, particularly from places like Sweden and Holland where her songs are very popular. In fact, Cassidy is the only female artist to have had three consecutive posthumous number one albums. Her third album, American Tune, knocked Robbie Williams off the top spot in 2003 while Songbird, released in 1998, sold more than 100,000 in two years. And all this despite performing no more than 100 gigs in her lifetime, many to no more than 30 people.
It’s also worth remembering that the majority of Cassidy’s released recordings were only ever intended to be demo tapes and were often done in just one take. When you consider how much of today’s music is edited, honed and fussed with, it’s testament to Cassidy’s enormous talent that, nearly 20 years after her death, they still sound so pure, so moving and so perfect.
“Eva’s is a tragic story aligned with the fact that her music was so beautiful,” says Faraday. “She was a sensitive person who worried that people didn’t like her enough, and she was shy. She never really wanted to be on show. I wonder how she would have felt if she knew how hugely famous she is now.
“I think she would have been a bit of recluse, a bit like Kate Bush.”
Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story is at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on October 18, 2014, and touring. For more information on the Manchester show, click here
For other touring dates, click here
Do check out the live recording, Live at Blues Alley. For more info, click here