Twenty-five years after her death, Eva Cassidy’s music is as timeless as ever

John Kelly

THE WASHINGTON POST – One evening around the holidays late last year, Chris Biondo and his wife, Eileen, were sitting in their Maryland home watching TV when an ad for Kay Jewelers came on.

Chris heard the plaintive acoustic version of Time After Time that runs under the video and instantly said, “That’s Eva.” He’d recognise that voice anywhere.

Eva Cassidy was a Washington singer just beginning to share her voice with the wider world when she died of cancer in 1996 at age 33.

Biondo was Cassidy’s collaborator – her bass player and producer – and, for a while, her boyfriend. He has worked as much as anyone to help keep her music alive. Twenty-five years after Cassidy’s death, she’s the subject of a documentary just released on YouTube, and there’s a new album out.

And her version of the 1983 Cyndi Lauper hit is in that commercial.

Every few years a new group of fans discovers Eva Cassidy and learns her heartbreaking/heartwarming story. She grew up in Bowie, Maryland, in an artistic and musical family. She could sing anything but was drawn to an assortment of genres: folk songs, jazz standards, the American songbook.

A documentary about Eva Cassidy was recently released on YouTube, along with a new album. She was just starting to share her voice with the wider world when she died of cancer. PHOTO: NORMAN WATKINS/BLIX STREET RECORDS

She worked at Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville, Maryland, and thought she could maybe earn some money doing backing vocals in local recording studios. She met Biondo. They recorded together in his studio. She collaborated with go-go pioneer Chuck Brown. She perplexed record labels that weren’t sure what category to put her in.

With her band, Cassidy played two nights at the DC jazz club Blues Alley in January 1996, recording the gig for a live album. She died that November.

Shortly before Cassidy’s death, Washington singer Grace Griffith sent a cassette to Bill Straw, who runs a music label called Blix Street Records in Gig Harbour, Washington. The tape was cued to Cassidy singing Sting’s Fields of Gold.

Straw said he knew Cassidy was going to be famous and that she wasn’t going to live to enjoy that fame.

Not that Cassidy necessarily would have wanted it. She was famously averse to the demands and expectations that come with celebrity, and to the perks it allows. She liked it when the audience was sparse, Biondo said.

Blix Street Records has regularly tapped the finite body of Cassidy’s work. Straw had planned to release songs Cassidy recorded with a fiddle player and that had a Western swing feel. Then Kay Jewelers called. The company wanted to do a national campaign with Time After Time. Eva had sung it during a gig at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis, Maryland, accompanying herself on guitar.

Straw postponed the Western swing album and released Acoustic, a collection of 20 acoustic songs by Eva. And he posted on YouTube the documentary Eva Cassidy: One Night That Changed Everything. In it, the members of Eva’s band – Biondo, drummer Raice McLeod, pianist Lenny Williams and guitarist Keith Grimes – watch a recording of the Blues Alley gig and reminisce.

The 50-minute documentary was shot in 2014. Straw wasn’t sure whether to put it out there – he’s still hoping for a more all-encompassing Eva Cassidy film, suitable for PBS – but One Night That Changed Everything has already had nearly 500,000 views.