Singer Has Posthumous Success Abroad

Like almost everyone, I missed Eva Cassidy the first time... the real time, the live time.

This was, originally, an embarrassment to someone who considered himself a "maven" of Washington-area music: to be told by an old friend (an out-of-towner, no less!) that I had to hear the CD of this "great singer from your town." Once I did hear Eva Cassidy's music, in 1997, I became an immediate and intense fan. My embarrassment turned to deep regret that I had never heard her sing before she died of cancer the year before, at the age of 33.

I tried to make up for it by pressing her CDs on dozens of people I knew would love them. Cassidy's "Over the Rainbow" was the first tune played on my traveling stereo in my hotel room at the end of almost every shooting day I spent in the Balkans during the years 1998 and 1999, years spent mostly in, or just outside, the tortured Kosovo. My crewmates and I were witnessing guerrilla wars, waves of ethnic cleansing, and the destruction and disruption of hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet we would follow the days of painful witness with nights of Eva's heartfelt invocation of that place "where the clouds are far behind me." We all knew it was a strange conjunction, but we all drew comfort from it.

Then, shortly after the first of this year, I learned from some of my English colleagues, who had joined in those hotel room listening sessions, that Eva Cassidy was all the rage on BBC Radio and TV. By March, her CD Songbird was No. 1 on the BBC "Top of the Pops 2" album chart, and five of her discs were in the British Top 150. People all over the U.K. were clearly hearing the same ravishing beauties in Eva's music that had won me over.

This wonderful, "fame after death, after life in obscurity" story was too good to ignore, and besides, it gave me a chance to posthumously "meet" the singer I had loved for years.

How I loved learning that the sweet singer could be a tough cookie who carried her own gear and sacrificed her "career" to a conviction that she could sing only songs she cared about. Eva's second "fault" was that she cared about and insisted on singing songs in just about every musical style she heard, from pop to folk to jazz to gospel. America's format-defined music industry could not handle that either.

So for the most part, Eva Cassidy's musical career never happened until her music was heard in another country, in another hemisphere, years after her death.

Now we all know.

As it says in the title of another of Eva's best songs, "What a Wonderful World!"

Dave Marash is a Nightline correspondent and guest anchor.

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