A Song for Olivia

Today is my niece’s birthday. She is six years old! Sunday will be her big party bash, replete with schoolmates, games, music, singing, and probably a fattening cake. 

Since Olivia’s parents – my brother and sister-in-law – are both musicians, she is being raised with a deep appreciation of music of all genres. My brother Chris especially has impeccable taste in music. He’s selective in his preferences, but for good reason.

One of Olivia’s favorite songs is “Over the Rainbow” which, on top of its immense popularity, is really a beautifully constructed song that communicates tender, optimistic sentiments. Hopeful feelings of dreams that might come true and a better world within reach. There is nothing corny or schmaltzy about that concept. If anything, we need more of it, as a bulwark against negativity and cynicism.

I am a huge fan of the late singer Eva Cassidy. For those of you who are not familiar with her, you will be now. Eva sang blues, jazz, folk, gospel, all with exquisite technique, brilliant phrasing, authenticity, and originality. And the quality of her voice is clear, sensitive, and expressive. In 1996, Eva Cassidy’s singing career was tragically cut short when she died from an aggressive form of melanoma. She was just 33 years old.

For my niece, this is Eva Cassidy’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow”. With all due respect to the great Judy Garland, this version might be the most haunting and stirring five and a half minutes of vocals I’ve ever heard.

Happy Birthday Olivia, sweetie! See you soon.
Love,
Auntie Claudie 🙂
xoxo

11 thoughts on “A Song for Olivia

  1. dougrogers says:

    Wow. She sang that like she knew she’d never get there.

  2. artmodel says:

    Doug,

    First Eva brought me to tears with her performance, and now you have done the same with your comment! Yes, she certainly did sing it that way. Very poignant, and uplifting at the same time.

    Thank you for commenting 🙂

    Claudia

  3. Ron says:

    I first heard Eva Cassidy about four years ago. Her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is simply amazing. She takes a song that we have all heard all our lives and transforms it into something entirely new. She brings new levels of meaning into the song. The first time I heard it , it brought tears to my eyes, something that rarely happens.

    That video is also very interesting in and of itself. It looks like it was not professionally produced but taken with a hand held camera by an audience member. Nevertheless the sound quality is very good given the circumstances.

    It’s a shame she left us so early.

  4. artmodel uk says:

    Hope it doesn’t look like I’m trying to steal anyone’s thunder, but new levels of meaning? Come on now, there’s a reason she is a legend and she made it her song many times over. The version sung by Dorothy has none of the layers of meaning that came out when she performed the song in later years. Check out this link and see if you don’t cry again.

    Of course I’m sorry for the loss to those who knew Eva Cassidy, never forget what she meant to you. But please don’t let us be forgetting or overlooking the great Judy Garland. I don’t think anyone ever sang with more sincerity or feeling.

    Justin

  5. artmodel says:

    Ron,

    Yes, the sound quality is surprisingly good for what appears to be a non-professional recording. Whoever taped it did it good job. I’m not sure, but I’m assuming this performance took place at Blues Alley in D.C.

    Eva Cassidy left us far too early, as you said. But she is, thankfully, getting posthumous recognition.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Claudia

  6. artmodel says:

    artmodeluk,

    Believe me, I would never diminish the talent of Judy Garland! I’m sorry if it came across that way, as it was certainly not my intention. I watched the YouTube link. Thanks for including it in your comment, as it’s an extraordinary clip.

    But I still agree with Ron’s comment about “new layers of meaning”, and I don’t see that as disrespecting Judy in any way. You actually made a helpful distinction between Garland’s “Dorothy” version of the song, as opposed to her live versions, like in the video. Movie renditions of songs are generally sung “straight”, and the singer isn’t allowed to flex their interpretative vocal skills. And this is particularly a shame in the case of Judy Garland, whose ability to interpret a song’s meaning were profound, both musically and emotionally. When people think of Judy singing “Over the Rainbow”, they invariably think of the film version. So I think what Ron and I are saying is that this particular Eva Cassidy version of the song might surpass the Garland “Dorothy” version, but not a Garland live version. Or Judy Garland overall. Don’t worry, Justin, “Over the Rainbow” will always belong to Judy!

    I’ve always felt that a singer/musician’s best performances are the ones that are live, which allow for greater flexibility, improvisation, and freedom. A deeper truth is exposed during those moments. But this is not to say that Judy Garland didn’t ALWAYS sing with sincerity. It would be insane to argue otherwise.

    By the way, my mother, who is a huge Judy fan, saw her perform live at the Palace Theater here in New York. It was back in the 1950s, and the show was a present from her parents for her 16th birthday. To this day, my Mom recalls that show as one of her most favorite memories of her youth. She says that Judy was absolutely unforgettable, and her charisma on the live stage was amazing. My Mom is one of the lucky ones who got to see Judy Garland perform live.

    So when it comes to Eva Cassidy and Judy Garland, I’d conclude that both singers were capable of causing goosebumps in their listening audience. And that’s what a great singer does, in my opinion. We’re lucky to have music from both of them.

    Since you were so nice to share that Garland video, I would like to share one of my favorites with you. In my opinion, this is her at her vocal and artistic peak. It showcases her extraordinary ability to interpret a song and imbue it with authentic feeling. Vintage Judy. Enjoy!

    Claudia

  7. artmodel uk says:

    I own that video. The ease with which she changes from interacting with the audience to note perfect singing out loud is remarkable, and while by no means unique, shows she was an honest and true performer, always giving the audience something real to take with them when they left, something of Judy of which there was unfortunately a limited supply. She appears to begin this performance with regret even, for having been taken out of a moment with the audience as the band starts, but the show must go on of course. Thanks for sharing it it’s my favorite Judy Garland song and that’s about as good as it gets.

    I wholeheartedly agree on the impact of live performance. Your mother was lucky indeed to have felt the emotion conveyed by Judy Garland, singing and speaking to her in the same room, amazing. Anyone who got to see Eva Cassidy, or Jeff Buckley, perform in a New York club witnessed something rare and were changed by it – if they weren’t too busy talking to their friends to realize it at the time. And now these wonderful people have gone, and left us too early but with something we won’t ever forget – of course I never saw any of these performers but am still moved when I hear their live performances.

    Thank you for sharing the Eva Cassidy video, I’m happy I got to see it (and for sharing your thoughts on Judy as well). Sorry to have hijacked this thread, which I believe was intended to celebrate one talented artist.

    Justin

  8. Ron says:

    Just to throw in my two cents worth. My praise for Eva Cassidy’s version of the song was in no way meant to diminish Judy’s, which is a classic. It’s just that Eva’s version forces us to look at the song form a different angle, and see and hear things in it that we never heard before. I think that it’s a tribute to the songwriter that it can still speak to us and move us seventy years after it was written and long before most of us were born.

    In fact, look at the story of the Wizard of Oz itself. Not only is the movie a classic, but look at the works of art that it has inspired, including The Wiz (maybe not so much) and Wicked, which should not be missed.

  9. lkwinter says:

    I listened to the video and my day began with bittersweet emotions, with the fog around me and everything.

    Your niece is lucky to have you in her life.

    Scott

  10. artmodel says:

    Ron,

    I totally understood what you meant. Eva Cassidy definitely did something special with her interpretation of that classic song. And saying that doesn’t undermine Judy Garland at all.

    In fact, I’m willing to bet that Judy would have loved Eva’s rendition. She’d probably be very moved by it, just like the rest of us.

    Claudia

  11. artmodel says:

    lkwinter,

    Thank you, friend. You are so kind. And if anything could stir bittersweet emotions it would be Eva Cassidy singing “Over the Rainbow”.

    Claudia 🙂

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