Patrick Lodiers talked with Johan Bakker about Eva Cassidy who died 25 years ago on 2 November 1996.

Today it is exactly 25 years ago that Eva Cassidy died, the singer who sadly only became famous after her death. Joining me in the studio is her biographer, music journalist Johan Bakker. Eva Cassidy performed mainly cover versions. Fields of Gold by Sting is a beautiful song in its own right, but Eva gives it Premier League quality.

“The power of her renditions was that she never simply copied someone, but turned the songs into something new. The best example of that is ‘Over the Rainbow’, which has a huge octave leap in it and she just leaves that out. She sings the same note twice. She made songs her own and in many cases she improved them.”

Johan Bakker & Patrick Lodiers
Johan Bakker & Patrick Lodiers

Eva Cassidy died of cancer at the age of 33, was there more tragedy in her life?

“The tragedy actually started quite early, because at school she was bullied, which was the reason why she withdrew a lot in her bedroom. She immersed herself in music, all kinds of music, she loved jazz, folk, gospel and she listened to singers like Aretha Franklin.”

What made you think: this life story needs to be told, I’m going to write a book about it?

“It’s sad that Eva Cassidy died of cancer, but it’s even sadder that she wasn’t famous at the time. That she did not experience success during her life. You can compare it to Vincent van Gogh, who made many beautiful paintings. He knew that they were special but they weren’t recognised as masterpieces. Eva probably also knew that what she made was exceptional, but she wasn’t allowed to reap the benefits.”

Eva Cassidy
Eva Cassidy

Why didn’t anyone see that she was so extraordinary?

“People did notice it. Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall travelled to Washington DC to see her perform. He offered her a contract on the spot. But she said: ‘Blue Note, isn’t that a jazz label? Well I don’t feel like to sing jazz only.’”

What would you like to say about Nightbird?

“This is the same concert as Live at Blues Alley. That was recorded 2 and 3 January 1996. It was the album that she didn’t want to be released, only a few songs ended up on the album Live at Blues Alley, the other tracks were older recordings that they pasted in. Twenty years later they finally released the complete album. To my amazement, these two CD’s are stunning from the first minute to the last.”

But why didn’t she think it was perfect?

“The recordings of the first night had failed and it was just like football: in one go it had to perfect, their last chance was their only chance. Eva had caught a cold the night before the second night and she thought her voice was not what the fans could expect from her.”

Johan Bakker
Johan Bakker

But fortunately it has been released and it is beautiful.

“Yes, because Eva Cassidy with a cold is still better than any other healthy singer.”

You also said that she suffered stage fright.

“She was a perfectionist. If everyone told her: you were fantastic, she always knew that something had not been quite right which was a terrible obstacle for her. That was one of the reasons that she did not want to become famous. Her friends say: actually it is a good thing that it happened like this, others can do the talking for her, they can praise her to the skies and she has already sung her songs.”


You want to play ‘I know you at Heart’. What makes this song so special?

“Her brother Dan Cassidy played the violin part. He went to see his sister to say goodbye. As he was in the neighbourhood he recorded his violin part. The first line of this song is ‘You left in Autumn’ and that’s how it turned out to be. There are also lines that are very moving in the light of her death: like ‘I still here your voice every day.’’’

Are there still singers who listen to her and are influenced by her?

“Many vocalists want to sing like Eva Cassidy. But Eva could sing in any genre! She had a system in her head and she only had to turn a switch to go to a totally different register.”

What is story of ‘What a Wonderful World’?

“That was the last song she sang in public. A few months before her death, her friends organised a benefit concert. The question was whether she would be able to show up. But she didn’t only show up, she entered the stage, leaning on a walker. She played on a specially adapted guitar because she had become so weak and then she sang ‘What A Wonderful World’ in front of the audience.”

Johan Bakker, thank you for your wonderful stories. The Eva Cassidy biography is still available! We are going to listen to ‘What A Wonderful World’.