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The Brief, Brilliant, Tragic Life of Eva Cassidy

Previously unreleased recordings shed new light on D.C.-based talent

Eva Cassidy
Eva Cassidy, circa 1990. Photo courtesy of Blix Street Records

It’s difficult to remember how little known the singer and guitarist Eva Cassidy was at the beginning of 1996, just five years before her Songbird album topped the charts in England and Ireland (and the reissue chart in the U.S.). Even in her hometown of Washington, D.C., she was little more than a rumor to most people. Although she had released a duet album with go-go pioneer Chuck Brown in 1992, The Other Side, she still hadn’t finished her first solo studio album by the end of 1995.

The lucky few who had heard her infrequent gigs, though, were clamoring for recordings. So Cassidy, 32, cashed in a small pension from her day job at a plant nursery to rent Washington’s most prominent jazz club, Blues Alley, for the first Monday and Tuesday of 1996. She paid for a live-recording truck to park outside the small brick building on a literal alley in D.C.’s tony Georgetown neighborhood, and begged her friends to fill the candlelit tables inside.

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