In 1996, D.C. native Eva Cassidy performed live at historic Blues Alley in Georgetown. It would tragically be one of her last, succumbing to melanoma later that year at age 33.
Now, her hit album “Live at Blues Alley” gets a remastered release for the holidays.
“People like anniversaries,” Blix Street Records Owner Bill Straw told WTOP. “It was an opportunity to honor what has become an enduring achievement. We remastered all of the recordings. Technology has gotten a lot better, so it sounds a lot better … it’s a double-disc vinyl record. The acceptance it’s gotten out of the box is actually quite surprising.”
The 13 tracks include renditions of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow,” Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
“She is, simply put, one of the best pop singers ever,” Straw said. “If she had not even been a singer, if she had decided to go into music as an instrumentalist, she had such an incredible musical intelligence and ear, she could have been a force of music if she never sang a note … just mixing and matching different aspects of the American songbook.”
Born in 1963 at D.C.’s Washington Hospital Center, Cassidy grew up in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and later Bowie, Maryland, before becoming a singer at local clubs.
Her first album, “The Other Side” (1992), was a duet with Chuck Brown, including “Over the Rainbow,” while earning recognition from the Washington Area Music Association.
“She worked in clubs and venues all over the D.C. area, so it was definitely her home market, but she was not that well known at the time of her passing,” Straw said. “People had seen her in clubs and she got a certain amount of notice with the Chuck Brown album, but it was Blues Alley when people started to get the full-on dose.”
The mesmerizing Blues Alley concert happened in January 1996, but while the audience enjoyed the show, it soon became clear something wasn’t right with Cassidy.
“She developed a sore hip and finally went to a doctor,” Straw said. “It turned out she had a broken hip from metastatic melanoma, so she underwent chemo and the whole thing. Blues Alley was Jan. 2 to 3 of ’96 and she passed on Nov. 2 of ’96, so it was not long.”
Her last concert was actually a benefit concert at The Bayou in Georgetown.
“They organized a benefit concert for her and she actually performed ‘Wonderful World’ at that concert, so that was her last public performance,” Straw said. “I was not there … I had heard of her and another one of our artists had sent me a cassette of the ‘Blues Alley’ album … I didn’t know if her family would even want to put out the music.”
After her death, Blix Street Records contacted the family about a posthumous release.
“We got involved about a year after she died to the day,” Straw said. “We entered into an agreement with her parents to market her. The plan was to do an anthology … we figured we had a one-time chance to load up and create a super album on an unknown artist.”
In addition to “Live at Blues Alley,” Cassidy posthumously released “Eva by Heart” (1997) and the compilation album “Songbird” (1998), which hit No. 1 around the world.
“Eva in the last 25 years has become a legacy artist,” Straw said. “Each new generation discovers her. A lot of the people who had records that broke around the same time she did have disappeared, and she hasn’t. That’s a testament to the quality of her work.”