‘Chuck & Eva’ pays tribute to Chuck Brown, Eva Cassidy with DC, Baltimore concerts

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Chuck & Eva' (Part 1)

Few artists are bigger D.C.-area music legends than the late Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy, with Brown dubbed “The Godfather of Go-Go” in D.C. and Cassidy the pride of Prince George’s County, Maryland for her jazz chops.

This month, the area performing arts group IN Series Opera performs “Chuck & Eva,” a special tribute performance of Brown and Cassidy’s beloved duet album “The Other Side” (1992) for three nights in D.C. and Baltimore.

“Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy met in 1986,” Artistic Director Tim Nelson told WTOP.

“She was an unknown singer with her own band. … Her bass player played a recording for Chuck Brown, who instantly fell in love with her voice. They became unlikely friends, he was 29 years older. … Together they put together this collaboration which has no go-go on it. It’s all American songbook, traditional jazz duets between the two of them.”

Jazz pianist and composer Janelle Gill will lead an “amazing celebration and exultation of D.C. music,” featuring a talented ensemble of area performers, including vocalists Greg Watkins and Melissa Wimbish. Gill is a product of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and previously collaborated with INseries on a Nina Simone tribute.

“Eva Cassidy’s voice and Chuck Brown’s voice and musical prowess are irreplaceable, there’s no way we could recreate the album, so that’s not what we’re doing,” Nelson said.

“What we’re doing is the same songs on the album being reinterpreted by living D.C. jazz artists, some of whom played with Chuck Brown’s band, some who are quite young, but all artists who have been inspired by the legacy of both of these incredible DMV artists.”

The set list includes the entire 14 tracks from the album “The Other Side,” albeit in a slightly different order as INseries hopes to create a unique experience.

“It is a lot of iconic songs, and then it is a lot of jazz standards that are not so standard that people may not know,” Nelson said.

“The one’s people will know — it opens with ‘Let the Good Times Roll,’ ‘Fever,’ everyone knows. When asked what his favorite song on the album was, Chuck Brown said it was ‘God Bless the Child,’ the Billie Holiday song that Eva Cassidy sings, and the one that almost everyone knows from Eva is ‘Over the Rainbow.'”

Concerts will be held Thursday, June 1 and Friday, June 2 at the True Reformer Building on U Street in Northwest D.C., followed by another concert June 24 at the Baltimore Theatre Project on West Preston Street in Baltimore.

“In D.C. it’s significant that we’re doing it at the True Reformer Building because that is one of Black Broadway’s most historic buildings,” Nelson said.

“It was the first Black-designed, owned and financed building in America, but it was also the first building where Duke Ellington performed publicly. … Baltimore Theatre Project is one of the most historic theaters in America. … In the ’60s and ’70s it was America’s most important avant-garde theater.”

Founded 40 years ago, IN Series Opera aims to transcend the opera realm to includes all genres of performance.

“We’re an opera company that hates the word ‘opera,'” Nelson said. “We’re disrupting opera, we love to tear it apart, we love to include other musical traditions, we’re hyper local, which is another reason we wanted to do something connected to D.C. music. Whatever people think of when they hear the word ‘opera,’ we’re not that.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Chuck & Eva' (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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