The idea to write a book

Many people are fascinated by the voice of Eva Cassidy. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a book about her?

After the interview with Katie Melua I speak to Daniëlle and Alice of Dramatico about the surprising notion that so many people are fascinated by the voice of Eva Cassidy, and yet we know so little about her. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a book? The A&R agents agree that this might be interesting, especially since the bottom of Eva’s song reservoir is coming into sight. A biography will certainly keep the flame alive. We agree that I will look into anything that can be found about Eva’s life and that I will inform them about my progress. 

I discover a modest biographical work about Eva entitled Songbird. That is a small first step. With the help of the American Book Centre I am able to order it. It happens to be a lady’s magazine-like picture book containing a lot of quotes from people who knew Eva. It provides a lot of information, but its presentation is a bit arbitrary. The nature of the book is quite like a fairytale, as if Eva Cassidy had been a saint. Most British and American newspaper articles are written in the same unrealistic positive tone. The book Songbird gives the impression that family, friends and band members commemorate Eva Cassidy seemingly in harmony with one another. Many urgent questions remain unanswered, though. Why did a singer of her calibre remain unknown for such a long time? Why is she so popular in the UK and other European countries, while Americans pass her by with indifference? What about the visual art that she created, is it displayed in a museum? Did she compose songs herself? Why did she still live with her parents at the age of 33? Could it have been possible to prevent her early death from the effects of skin cancer? Why did she sing so many gospel songs?

The two most important people in Eva’s life are producer, band member and friend Chris Biondo and her mother Barbara. The two meet each other once a year in Eva’s favourite restaurant where they muse on the meaning of their friend and daughter. ‘It’s as if I lived in one house with Picasso without realising it,’ says Biondo about her in one of the many interviews in the British press.

Chris Biondo is easy to find through the website of the company that he runs with Lenny Williams, former piano player of the Eva Cassidy Band. The two are successful documentary composers for National Geographic and other TV channels; they have won several Grammies for their soundtracks. Chris makes clear that he is not a man who is fond of email. He answers my written request with the simple mentioning of his phone number. ‘The big publicity boom dates from a few years ago,’ Chris tells me after some initial tentativeness. After the release of Songbird, Time after Time and American Tune he made several journeys toEurope, where he was interviewed on radio and television. Yes, he is Eva Cassidy’s ambassador. ‘It’s as if I have to protect her from the evil outside world,’ Chris explains. ‘Eva was a vulnerable person during her life. She is no longer with us and suddenly she has reached stardom and that is something that doesn’t bring back the best in other people.’ Chris speaks in a firm decisive tone which doesn’t tolerate much objection. At the same time, he hesitates to trust this unknown European journalist completely. At the end of the conversation I am able to convince Chris that the book I’d like to write originates from admiration.

Chris reveals in a second phone call that the stay-behinds treat each other in a less harmonic way than the Songbird book suggests. After Eva’s death, Chris gave Eva’s parents the recordings he had made with their daughter in his studio. No one expected then that this unknown shy singer would sell millions of CD’s within a few years. Parents and band members had agreed on a distributive arrangement for possible royalties but when the money started to stream in, Eva’s family adapted the rules of the game. When Eva’s other friends who also possessed some recordings tried to release their own albums, they had to defend themselves in the courtroom. The family made it impossible for filmmakers and documentary makers to embark upon Eva’s extraordinary life story.

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