01 Oct 1996
Eva Marie Cassidy, native Washingtonian who passed away in November 1996, described herself simply as “someone who likes to sing.” To others, she was more than that. Eva was one of the most diverse singers to come along in quite some time. Her ability to sing an old standard would make one think she was from that era, and twice her age. She sang with a powerful, soulful voice on an upbeat song, then turned around to sing a ballad in a soft, clear, brilliance that wouldn’t leave you untouched. She learned improvising, phrasing, and dynamics from being a good listener. A few of her “teachers” were: Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, Billie Holiday, Harry Belafonte, Louie Armstrong, Take Six, Ella Fitzgerald (she listened to the same two Ella albums for two years) and her all-time favorite, Stevie Wonder. Eva won five Washington Area Music Awards (Wammies) in the last three years, for the Jazz – Contemporary Vocalist, Jazz – Traditional Vocalist, and Roots Rock /Traditional R&B; vocalist. Eva is nominated for nine 1996 Wammies; including Artist of the Year, and Album of the Year. Eva also played the guitar, she loved art and enjoyed painting, drawing, and sculpting. The purity of her voice and spirit will live on in all of those she touched.
The cool music of Roberta Flack predated Quiet Storm programming by a decade and is credited by Rolling Stone for liberating contemporary black music from the grip of soul conventions. In the early 1970s, Flack’s unhurried renditions of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” earned her Record and Song of the Year Grammies in consecutive years. Raised in Arlington, Flack started her musical career as a classical pianist, winning a statewide contest at 13, enrolling at Howard University on a music scholarship, and graduating at 19. In 1968, Flack began developing her husky, understated vocal style through regular gigs at Mr. Henry’s Capitol Hill and caught the ear of jazz pianist Les McCann who tipped off Atlantic Records to her talent. Recorded in 10 hours, Flack’s 1970 debut on Atlantic Records, “First Take,” included “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” which would become a hit three years later due to Clint Eastwood. The first-time director selected the tune to score a long, romantic scene in his film, “Play Misty for Me,” which became a box office smash. Based on the film’s success, Atlantic released the song as a single where it spent seven weeks at the top of the charts and won two Grammies. That year, 1974, Flack also took pop vocal duo honors for “Where is the Love,” a duet with Donny Hathaway. The next year, she duplicated her success with “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”
SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK
Sweet Honey In The Rock is a Grammy Award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble with deep roots in the sacred music of the black church – spirituals, hymns, and gospel – as well as jazz and blues. Dedicated to preserving and celebrating African American culture and singing tradition, Sweet Honey’s roots sprouted from a 1973 vocal workshop founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon at the DC Black Repertory Company. In its 23 years, Sweet Honey has traveled around the world delivering a powerful message – one that speaks out against oppression and injustice, encourages activism, and sings the praises of love. Over the years, 22 women have participated in the singing ensemble currently comprised of Reagon, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard, and Sign Language Interpreter Shirley Childress Johnson. Sweet Honey has 14 releases to its credit, from 1976’s self-named debut on Flying Fish to “Sacred Ground” released last year on Earthbeat/Warner. The group received a Grammy in 1989 for the Smithsonian Folkways/Columbia recording “Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.” Following the group’s move to Earthbeat/Warner, Sweet Honey released “In This Land” (1992) and “Still on the Journey” (1993), both of which made Billboard’s Top Ten World Music Charts. In addition, on the group’s 20th anniversary, Anchor Books published “We Who Believe in Freedom: Sweet Honey In The Rock, Still on the Journey,” an anthology of essays by members past and present.
Legendary figures in the acoustic music world, the Seldom Scene have been acclaimed by Cash Box as America’s greatest bluegrass band. What started as a weekly card game in 1971 soon became a sustaining career for musicians who broke through the boundaries of bluegrass and brought to it new legions of fans. The Seldom Scene’s sound relies on powerful lead and tenor vocals combined with clever, artful solos from the mandolin, banjo, and dobro.
On mandolin and tenor vocals is John Duffey, who more than 30 years ago was an original member of the groundbreaking Country Gentlemen. On banjo is Ben Eldridge. Lead vocalist Dudley Connell, a founding member of the Johnson Mountain Boys, has been nominated for two Grammy Awards and five times by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) as male vocalist of the year. Underpinning the group’s intricate arrangements, are the solid, creative bass lines of Ronnie Simpkins who spent five years with the technically demanding Tony Rice Unit and has performed with such greats as Sam Bush and Bela Fleck. On dobro is Fred Travers who has performed on more than 20 records, has two solo releases, and has since 1991 been an IBMA nominee for dobro player of the year.
Content courtesy of Washington Area Music Association.
Featured image photo credit: Shahar Azran/WireImage