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Wilson, Cassandra

Cassandra Wilson

Singer, composer

Jazz Jamming after College

Crossover Stardom

A Tribute to Miles Davis

Selected discography

Sources

Vocalist Cassandra Wilson emerged in the 1980s as a fresh, young jazz talent whose performances solicited comparisons with the greatest jazz divas of the twentieth century. Yet Wilson ultimately defied labels as she traded the sultry and sophisticated image of past jazz and blues singers to project a much simpler image that was less flamboyant and more down home. She was acclaimed for her crossover talents when she branched into reggae, R&B, hip-hop, and folk. Cassandra Wilson transcends category and defies convention, said Joy Bennett Kinnon of Ebony.

Wilson was born Cassandra Marie Fowlkes, in Jackson, Mississippi, on December 4, 1955. She was raised in a close-knit, middle class family. Her father, Herman Fowlkes, was a professional musician. Initially he played bass but went on to learn the cello, violin, guitar, and saxophone. He put his musical career on hold around the time that his third child and only daughter, Cassandra, was born. After Wilsons birth, her father changed careers and worked as a postman, but music remained his fondest interest. Wilson idolized her father who played endless hours of jazz music on the family hi-fi. The sounds of Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, and Nancy Wilson filled the Fowlkes household. Wilsons grandmother, who sang zealously in church, also influenced the young girls attitudes. Although her grandmother passed away when Wilson was an 12 years old, Wilson fondly recalled sleeping on her couch and the curtains blowing over me at night. I remember that as being a truly magical feeling. There was a train would come by every night, and Id hear the whistle blow. That is the sweetest memory I have, she confided to George Tate of Essence.

Wilsons fervor for jazz was further aroused as a young child when she developed a childhood crush on Miles Davis after hearing his album, Sketches of Spain. Shortly afterward she began to study classical piano, and she took up playing the guitar at the age of nine. During her high school years in the 1960s, Wilson nurtured a keen interest in the music styles of Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and others popular folk singers of the era. Joni Mitchell provided particular inspiration for Wilson who soon began writing her own songs in the folk tradition while she was in high school. Because of her diverse interests and her affinity for folk music, Wilson never came to see herself as a jazz singer in the traditional sense. Public opinion differed, however, as Wilsons musical career unfolded.

Jazz Jamming after College

Wilson put great importance on education. Her mother, a career schoolteacher, encouraged her daughter to

For the Record

Born Cassandra Marie Fowlkes on December 4, 1955, in Jackson, MS; daughter of Herman B. Fowlkes and Mary Fowlkes; married Anthony Wilson, 1981; divorced, 1983. Education: Milsaps College; degree in mass communications, Jackson State University.

Signed with independent JMT label during the 1980s; signed with Blue Note Records in 1993.

Awards: Female Jazz Vocalist of the Year, Down Beat magazine, 1994-1996; Grammy Award for best vocal jazz performance for New Moon Daughter, 1997.

Addresses: Record company Blue Note Records, 304 Park Ave. South, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10010.

Obtain a higher education and to nurture a backup career apart from musica precarious profession that offered little security. After high school Wilson attended Milsap College and later completed her curriculum in mass communication at Jackson State. Even as a college student, Wilson aspired to a musical career, and she was singing professionally by 1975.

Wilson sang with the Black Arts Music Society in Jackson and studied with drummer Alvin Fielder before setting out for New Orleans in 1981. There she worked as an assistant public affairs director at a television station and decided to pursue a career in television, but she never abandoned her deep love of music and her desire to continue singing professionally. In New Orleans she continued her musical studies with saxophone player Earl Turbinton and worked with jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis. One year later, in 1982, she moved to New York City where she joined a group of jazz players called M-Base and did a lot of jazz jamming. In the company of her avant-garde musical cohorts, including M-Base leader and jazz saxophone player Steve Coleman, Wilson became immersed in the culture of the local musicians. She later worked with the Black Rock Coalition (B.R.C.), and recorded her first album in 1985. She continued to perform and recorded more albums, with M-Base, B.R.C, and Coleman, but it was hersolo album, Blue Skies, in 1988 that became her vehicle to recognition and stardom. Wilsons throaty voice came through in Blue Skies. Critics praised the solo effort and compared her style to that of Betty Carter.

Crossover Stardom

As the 1980s came to a close Wilson signed with EMI records and expanded her repertoire to embrace a wide spectrum of music. Her jazz-inspired renditions extended from adaptations of works by Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison, to funk-based rhythms. Her reputation as a crossover artist flourished, and her universal musical styles transcended the generations. The strength of Wilsons voice, combined with herflexibility and propensity to cross over into non-jazz compositions, generated a following within the music niches of younger listeners.

In 1995 Wilson embarked on a six-week European tour, with a side trip to Rio. She undertook a promotional tour for her album Blue Light tilDawn in April of 1996. At JVC Jazz Festival in New York that year she performed on the strength of her own reputation, as an established star in her own right. Also in that year she joined in with assorted artists including Q-tip and DAngelo in performing cameos for The Roots on illadelph halflife, on DGC Records. In late summer that year she opened for Ray Charles at Radio City Music Hall. Additionally, Wilson collaborated from time to time with Benin folk musician Angélique Kidjo, including a performance at the Mon-treaux Jazz Festival, and the two contributed cameos to each others albums.

Wilsons partiality for 1960s music came through in her album New Moon Daughter which included selections from Joni Mitchell and the Monkees that were adapted to Wilsons uniquely jazz-based improvisational style. Gene Santoro said about the release of Nation in 1996 that Wilson may well have locked up the title Chanteuse of the Nineties. She is the direct descendant of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. Santoro said in 1999 that Wilson and her instrumentalists forego the microphone in front of a kickass big band or an intimate piano trio. Instead, they create a rural, bluesy atmosphere, a studio back porch of acoustic guitars and bass, gently persistent percussion and odd daubs of color, like a floating steel guitar or a skirling fiddle. The dense arrangements sway to allow improvised solos and ideas into radically revamped material ranging from Son Houses raw country blues to The Monkees Last Train to Clarksville.

In 1997, Wilson toured in Wynton Marsalis Pulitzer Prize winning jazz opera, Blood on the Fields, a composition that she had interpreted earlier in a National Public Radio broadcast performance in 1994. A recording of the opera, taped in 1995, was released in 1997. That year in the JVC Jazz Festival in New York City she performed at Carnegie Hall. In 1998 she played at the Lincoln Center along with Marsalis and his group.

A Tribute to Miles Davis

The late Miles Davis undoubtedly held the greatest influence on Wilsons music outside of her family. In 1989, during her early days as a recording artist, Wilson was thrilled to perform as the opening act for Davis at the JVC Jazz Festival in Chicago. Although she never had the opportunity to meet and speak with Davis, she produced an album, Traveling for Miles, released in 1999, as a tribute to him. The album developed from a series of jazz concerts that she performed at Lincoln Center in Novemberof 1997 in Davis honor. The album included three selections based on Davis own compositions, in which Wilson adapted the original themes. She balanced the selections on the album with four original compositions of her own, including the title song, Traveling Miles, to keep the album fresh and interesting. Four other songs on the album were either recorded by or associated with Davis during his lifetime. Traveling for Miles was a milestone production for Wilson. Her backup artists on the Davis album included Regina Carter on violin, Steve Coleman on alto saxophone, Stefon Harris on vibes, and Dave Holland on bass. Wilson adapted, arranged, wrote, produced, and for the first time in her life conducted the music on Traveling for Miles. She promoted the album by means of a24-city tour that took her to a number of out-of-the-way locations in Vermont, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Wilson was married briefly to Anthony Wilson from 1981 to 1983. She has one son, Jeris, born in the late 1980s. The two live in Harlem, New York, in an apartment that once belonged to jazz great Duke Ellington. Wilson and Jeris travel togetherfrequently whenever Jeris school schedule allows.

Selected discography

Point of View, JMT, 1986.

DaysAweigh, JMT, 1987.

Blue Skies, JMT, 1988.

She Who Weeps, JMT, 1991.

After the Beginning Again, JMT, 1991.

Blue Light Til Dawn, Blue Note, 1993.

No Prima Donna: the Songs of Van Morrison, 1994.

After the Beginning Again, JMT/Verve 1994.

New Moon Daughter, Blue Note, 1996.

Traveling for Miles, Blue Note, 1999

(with Jacky Terrasson) Rendezvous, Blue Note, 1997.

(with New Air) Air Show No. 1, Black Saint.

(with Jim DeAngelis and Tony Signs) Straight from the Top, Statiras.

with Steve Coleman

Motherland Pulse, JMT, 1985.

World Expansion, JMT.

On the Edge of Tomorrow, JMT.

with M-Base

Anatomy of a Groove, DlW/Columbia.

Dance to the Drums Again, DlW/Columbia, 1993.

Sources

Books

Erlewine, Michael, exec, ed., All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller Freeman Books, 1998.

Larkin, Colin, ed., The Guiness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guinness Publishing, reprinted 1994.

Periodicals

Billboard, March 6, 1999, p. 11.

Down Beat, January 1995, p. 22; July 1995, p. 13; November 1996, p. 66.

Ebony, December 1996, p. 62.

Essence, July 1996, p. 60.

Nation, April 15, 1996, p. 33; April 19, 1999, p. 40.

Newsweek, April 5, 1999, p. 72.

People, March 11, 1996, p. 25.

Time, March 11, 1996, p. 69.

U.S. News & World Report, February 3, 1997, p. 91.

Gloria Cooksey

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Wilson, Cassandra 1955–

Cassandra Wilson 1955

Jazz vocalist

New Orleans Sparked Transition to Jazz

Struck Gold With Blue Light

Star Rose With New Moon Daughter

Selected discography

Sources

By now, it has become almost pointless to write that Cassandra Wilson is the most prominent jazz vocalist of her generation. Her recordings have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, astounding numbers for a jazz artist. But what is most remarkable about Wilson is her ability to woo a crossover audience with U2 and Monkees covers, while at the same time retaining her credibility with hardline jazz aficionados. The key to this tough balancing act lies in her deeply-ingrained jazz sensibility, an approach that brings a smoky edge to even her most pop-based songs. As diverse as her influences are, the underlying approach is all jazz.

Wilson was born Cassandra Marie Fowlkes in 1955 in Jackson, Mississippi. Her father, Herman B. Fowlkes, was a jazz guitarist. He made sure that there was plenty of music around the houseboth in the number and variety of instruments lying about, and in his collection of recordings by jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Thelonious Monk. Although he gave up performing professionally once Cassandra was bornhe turned down a chance to tour with Ray Charles in order to spend more time with his familyFowlkes encouraged his daughters musical aspirations from the start. At her fathers urging, Cassandra studied piano, both classical and jazz, beginning when she was about six years old. A few years later, he began teaching her guitar chords, and by the time she was a teenager, Cassandra was writing her own songs. Her tastes at the time ran toward the folk stylings of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez, and her early compositions reflected that preference.

New Orleans Sparked Transition to Jazz

After graduating from high school, Wilson began making the local rounds as a guitar-strumming folk singer, while attending Milsaps College. During the mid-1970s, she landed a weekly Tuesday night gig at a folk club near the college. In 1981 Cassandra married Anthony Wilson, and about the same time she gave up singing for a while. She went back to school, this time at Jackson State University, and received a degree in communications. Wilson and her husband then moved to New Orleans, where she hoped to begin a career in broadcasting. Perhaps it was something in the New Orleans air that

At a Glance

Born Cassandra Marie Fowlkes, in 1955, in Jackson, MS; daughter of Herman B. Fowlkes (a jazz guitarist and mail carrier), and Mary Fowlkes (a schoolteacher); married Anthony Wilson, 1981 (divorced, 1983); child: Jeris (son). Education: Attended Milsaps College; Jackson State University, BA.

Career: Asst. public affairs director at New Orleans television station, c. 1982. Began performing career at folk clubs around Milsaps College, mid-1970s; performed with various jazz artists, including Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis, in New Orleans, 1981; moved to New York and began association with M-Base collective, 1982; made several albums with Steve Coleman, beginning with Motherland Pulse, 1985; recorded first solo album, Point of View, 1986; recording artist, JMT label, 1986-1992, Blue Note, 1993-.

Awards: Down Beat Female Singer of the Year, 1994, 1995.

Addresses: PublicityShore Fire Media, 32 Court St., Suite 1600, Brooklyn, NY 11201; Record companyBlue Note, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, 35th Floor, New York, NY 10104.

made Wilson start thinking about singing again. Working days as the assistant public affairs director of a local television station, she spent her evenings sitting in with notable New Orleans jazzers like Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis (father of stars Wynton and Branford).

After a year in New Orleans, Wilson moved to New York. Unable to find a regular day job, she began showing up at jam sessions, and soon became a regular at several of them all over town. She became primarily an interpreter of jazz standards, in the Betty Carter mold. The event that changedor started, reallyWilsons career came in 1983, when she met saxophonist-composer Steve Coleman, leader of the avant-garde jazz collective M-Base, known for its cutting-edge mixture of jazz improvisation and contemporary urban rhythms, such as funk and hip-hop. Colemans influence on Wilsons development as a musician was profound. He encouraged her to look beyond bebop, and to begin composing her own original material. Gradually, Wilson began to forge her own stylistic direction, without abandoning her beloved standards entirely.

Wilson worked with Coleman quite a bit over the next several years. She made her recording debut on Colemans 1985 release Motherland Pulse. She made her first solo album, Point of View, the following year, taking only two days to record and mix it. Another solo effort, Days Aweigh, released in 1987, took four days to make, with Wilson doing most of the production herself. These early recordings show Wilson at her most mystical lyrically, singing dreamy, metaphysical words over a variety of grooves that contain hints of funk, fusion, and reggae. A year later, she changed direction entirely with the release of Blue Skies, a collection of jazz standards by the likes of Irving Berlin and Johnny Mercer. It featured a conventional jazz trio of piano, bass, and drums. Blue Skies sold nearly ten times as many copies as either of her previous recordings, and was the top selling jazz album in 1989.

Struck Gold With Blue Light

Over the next few years, however, Wilson struggled to develop a coherent musical vision. Torn between her own eclectic tastes and the demands of her record company to produce conservative hits, she ended up satisfying neither. Her 1991 release, She Who Weeps, failed to generate the kind of attention that Wilson had hoped for. By the early 1990s, Wilson had veered away from jazz standards, and was now exploring more of a black pop angle with her music. Her 1992 release Dance to the Drums Again made use of such pop tools as drum machines and synthetic strings. The following year, Wilson signed with the Blue Note label and hooked up with producer Craig Street. This formula proved to be a winner. Street convinced Wilson to abandon her plan to release a collection of Southern soul music, and to instead look inward to the music that she had enjoyed since her teens, including that of folk-inspired performers such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, as well as the 1970s pop that had shaped her musical sensibilities.

The resulting album was Blue Light Til Dawn, considered by many to be Wilsons strongest project to date. Blue Light contained material by, among others, Joni Mitchell, the Stylistics, and pioneering Delta bluesman Robert Johnson. The recording made Wilson a crossover sensation, leading to a string of four consecutive years as Down Beat magazines top female jazz vocalist. There seemed to be something on the album for everybody. Serious jazz fans looked at Wilsons spare arrangements and desire to cover pop tunes, and drew parallels with Miles Davis. Intellectuals started calling her post-modern. Pop fans just dug the songs. The success of Blue Light also created quite a bit of demand for Wilsons services on other peoples projects. Wynton Marsalis asked her to sing the lead on Blood on the Fields, his three-hour, Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestral jazz composition that premiered at New Yorks Lincoln Center in the spring of 1994, and later spawned a recorded version. She was also tapped to sing the title track on When Doves Cry, a tribute album to the Artist Formerly Known As Prince. In addition, Van Morrison liked her version of his song Tupelo Honey so much that he specifically invited her to cover another one of his songs.

Star Rose With New Moon Daughter

Joining forces with Street once again, Wilson repeated her winning formula on the 1996 release New Moon Daughter. Like Blue Light, New Moon Daughter contained songs written by several 1970s icons that had helped to shape Wilsons ear. Covers included Monkees hit Last Train to Clarksville; Neil Youngs Harvest Moon; and Love is Blindness by U2. Also on the album were songs by Hank Williams, Hoagie Carmicha-el, and Son House. Again the orchestration was bare-bones, allowing Wilsons voice to take center stage throughout. The praise lavished on Wilson following the release of New Moon Daughter was so unanimously glowing it became almost trite. Greg Tate, writing in Essence, called her the most original jazz vocalist of her generation. To Chris Norris of New York magazine, she is jazzs most sensual and fearless vocalist. Time crowned her the queen of contemporary jazz vocalists and the true heir of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

Touring endlessly throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, Wilson has begun to attain a level of stardom rarely enjoyed these days by anyone involved in jazz. As John Ephland of Down Beat pointed out in 1995, the secret is her ability to criss-cross the boundaries between jazz and pop with such reverence and authenticity. Rather than alienating either camp, she delights both of them. As her producer Street put it, it doesnt matter what Cassandra does, it all comes out sounding like Cassandra, and it all comes out sounding like jazz.

Selected discography

Point of View, JMT, 1986.

Days Aweigh, JMT, 1987.

Blue Skies, JMT, 1988.

She Who Weeps, JMT, 1991.

Dance to the Drums Again, DIW/Columbia, 1992.

Blue Light Til Dawn, Blue Note, 1993.

Live, 1993.

Jump World, JMT.

New Moon Daughter, Blue Note, 1996.

With Steve Coleman

Motherland Pulse, JMT, 1985.

World Expansion, JMT.

On the Edge of Tomorrow, JMT.

With others

(With New Air) Air Show No. 1, Black Saint.

(With Jim DeAngelis and Tony Signs) Straight From the Top, Statiras.

(With Wynton Marsalis) Blood On The Fields.

(Tribute album) When Doves Cry.

Sources

Down Beat, February 1988, pp. 28-29; January 1995, pp. 22-25.

GQ, July 1994, pp. 47-49.

Rolling Stone, May 19, 1994, p. 77.

Vogue, September 1994, p. 324.

Essence, July 1996, pp. 60-62

New York, March 18, 1996, p. 28.

Time, March 11, 1996.

Vibe, April 1996, p. 78.

USA Today, January 28, 1997, p. 8D.

Additional information for this profile was provided by Shore Fire Media.

Robert R. Jacobson

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Wilson, Cassandra

Cassandra Wilson

Singer, composer

Moved to New Orleans

Explored Diverse Musical Genres

Blue Light Highlighted Vocal Stylings

Selected discography

Sources

One of the most prominent jazz vocalists of the late twentieth century, Cassandra Wilson has a contralto voice that has been variously described as rich, smoky, and deep and hazy. Her repertoire is diverse; it includes jazz standards, Mississippi reggae, blues, and pieces that edge into pop, although Wilson brings a jazz singers sensibility and phrasing to everything she does. Wilsons recording career began with Steve Coleman as part of the M-Base collective and progressed to the production of several solo albums of which she wrote, co-wrote, or arranged about half herself. Her most popular albums, Blue Skies, a collection of jazz standards, and Blue Light Til Dawn, a mix of blues, jazz, and folk, departed from her usual metaphysical lyrics.

Wilsons childhood entry into music was influenced by her father, jazz guitarist and bassist Herman B. Fowlkes. She studied classical piano from age six or seven to her early teens. Taught basic guitar chords by her father at 11 or 12, Wilson began writing her own songs. Over the next five years she wrote approximately 20 folk-type tunes, inspired by Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and Judy Collins. It was while attending Milsaps College in the mid-1970s that Wilson got her first gig singing and playing guitar at a nearby folk club every Tuesday. And although the response to her performances gave her confidence in her singing, she also received some valuable criticism. I used to have this nyaa-a-a-a-h vibrato, she told Kevin Whitehead in a Down Beat interview. The club owner told me nobody could make it with a voice like that. I got rid of it, but there is a trace of it left; you can hear it.

Moved to New Orleans

After graduating with a degree in mass communications from Jackson State, Wilson moved to New Orleans, where she began sitting in with Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis. In 1982 she arrived in New York and soon found her way into the M-Base jazz collective, a group of avant-garde musicians mixing jazz improvisation with precise composition and the rhythms of hip-hop, rap, and funk.

Saxophonist Steve Coleman, whom Wilson met in 1983, played a significant role in Wilsons career at the time. He was the first one that really encouraged me to write my own material, to do original music, and to just spot a direction of my own, Wilson explained in her Down Beat interview. At the time a bebopper, Wilson was attracted to the music of Charlie Parker and the singing of Betty Carter; Coleman introduced her to the singing of Abbey Lincoln, who became an important influence on her development. Coleman also gave Wilson her

For the Record

Born Cassandra Marie Fowlkes, in 1955, in Jackson, MS; daughter of Herman B. Fowlkes (a jazz guitarist, bassist, and schoolteacher), and Mary Fowlkes (a schoolteacher); married Anthony Wilson, 1981 (divorced, 1983). Education: Attended Milsaps College; received degree in mass communications from Jackson State.

First professional gig at a folk club near Milsaps College, mid-1970s; joined Blue John, a rock band from Arkansas; moved to New Orleans and began sitting in with Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis, 1981; moved to New York and joined what would become the M-Base collective, 1982; made several albums with Steve Coleman, mid-1980s; recorded with Jim DeAngelis and Tony Signs and Henry Threadgills New Air, 1980s; recorded first solo album, 1986; recorded seven more solo albums, mostly avant-garde jazz, although one was a collection of standards and one a mix of blues, folk, and jazz, late 1980s and early 1990s.

Addresses: Home New York, NY. Publicity Shore Fire Media, 193 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY 11202. Record company Blue Note, 810 Seventh Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

first recording opportunity on his 1985 release, Motherland Pulse. Whitehead described her recording debut in Down Beat: You could already hear her well-developed ear, a taste for unlikely intervals, and a refreshing refusal to wow us to death.

Explored Diverse Musical Genres

Over the next several years Wilson continued to collaborate with Coleman; she also recorded with Henry Threadgills New Air and with Jim DeAngelis and Tony Signs. Her first solo album, Point of View, was released by JMT in 1986, having taken only two days to record and mix. She did most of the producing for Days Aweigh, taking only four days but finishing with a more polished album than her previous release. The songs on these two albums do not represent the usual jazz singers repertoire. A mix of funk, fusion, and reggae, the music combines with lyrics that border on metaphysical. Praised for their ambitious scope, these early albums have also been criticized as too ethereal.

In 1988 Wilson showcased her talents in a different venue, a collection of standards. Blue Skies, with the traditional trio of piano, bass, and drums to support Wilsons vocals, includes material from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, and Johnny Mercer. The readings never get too deep, described Brian Cullman in Vogue, but her phrasing is consistently thoughtful and original. Her treatment of such songs as Ive Grown Accustomed to His Face, Sweet Lorraine, Shall We Dance, and I Didnt Know What Time It Was, led many to compare her to Betty Carter. Jazz fans seemed to appreciate Wilsons skills as a dramatist; this album outsold her previous recordings by almost ten to one.

In Dance to the Drums Again, released by DlW/Colum-bia in 1993, Wilson turned away from the winning formula of Blue Skies. She returned to ethereal lyrics, but leaned toward a black pop format. Jean-Paul Bourelly co-wrote most of the tracks, incorporating guitar and even some synthetic strings and a drum machine. An African choral influence can be heard in places. According to a 1993 Essence profile, Her highly metaphysical lyrics, she says, are inspired by her dreams as well as by African religions and mythology, which she has studied extensively.

Blue Light Highlighted Vocal Stylings

First-time producer Craig Street worked with Wilson on her next album, Blue LightTilDawn. Originally planned as a collection of Southern soul music, the album evolved into an earthy mix of Delta blues, African harmonies, and folk/pop tracks. Themes of restlessness and unrequited love tie the disparate styles and genres together. The tracks are also all given the same reductionist treatment by Street, using blues and classical guitars, African and Brazilian percussion, and a little bass. With no keyboard and few horns, the pieces feature percussion as an important foil for Wilsons floating and soaring improvisation. Her voice is in the forefront on this album, which includes material by the Stylistics, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and Delta blues legend Robert Johnson.

Wilson next cut two songs with Robbie Robertson for the film Jimmy Hollywood and was expected to begin work on her next album in the spring of 1994. Meanwhile, the cross-generational appeal of Blue Light Til Dawn, the uniformly strong reviews it received, and its unusual mix of genres was moving Wilson into the mainstream. According to Tate, Blue Light Til Dawn is the kind of album that gets called timeless on the way to becoming a classic. It stirs up misty visions of jazz antiquity in thoroughly modern ways, eschewing the use of tradition as a crutch and embracing black musics past as a place where emancipation begins rather than ends.

Selected discography

Point of View, JMT, 1986.
DaysAweigh, JMT, 1987.
Blue Skies, JMT, 1988.
She Who Weeps, JMT, 1991.
Dance to the Drums Again, DlW/Columbia, 1992.
Blue Light Til Dawn, Blue Note, 1993.
Live, 1993.
Jump World, JMT.

With others

(With Steve Coleman) Motherland Pulse, JMT, 1985.

(With Coleman) World Expansion, JMT.

(With Coleman) On the Edge of Tomorrow, JMT.

(With New Air) Air Show No. 1, Black Saint.

(With Jim DeAngelis and Tony Signs) Straight From the Top, Statiras.

Sources

Billboard, February 12, 1994.

Down Beat, February 1988; January 1989; December 1993.

Essence, February 1993.

Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1993.

Musician, May 1994.

Pulse!, June 1993.

Vogue, February 1989.

Additional information for this profile was provided by Shore Fire Media.

Susan Windisch Brown

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"Wilson, Cassandra." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Wilson, Cassandra." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wilson-cassandra

Wilson, Cassandra

CASSANDRA WILSON


Genre: Jazz

Best-selling album since 1990: New Moon Daughter (1996)

Hit songs since 1990: "Tupelo Honey," "Blue Light 'Til Dawn," "The Weight"


Amoody vocalist with a stylistic range encompassing jazz, blues, soul, and rock, Cassandra Wilson built a reputation in the 1990s as an astute interpreter of lyrics, a challenging but rewarding artist who informs all she sings with a deep jazz sensibility. Possessing a grainy, textured voice, Wilson wraps her supple chords around songs as disparate as rock singer Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" and the self-penned call for slave reparations, "Justice." Relying on subtle shifts of mood, Wilson sings with a slow, burning introspection that rarely gets out of control. The mood she creates on her recordings is so rich that it sometimes seems she is hiding behind it, using sonic luxuriance as a means of avoiding genuine emotion. It would be a mistake, however, to interpret her restraint as a lack of involvement; a close listen to her music reveals an artist of spirit and integrity.

Born and raised in the Mississippi city of Jackson, Wilson spent her childhood soaking up a diverse array of musical influences. At a young age she sang with her mother and grandmother in church, although she was more attracted to the jazz and pop records collected by her father, a skilled bassist and cellist who once performed with R&B great Ray Charles. After receiving a college degree in communications, Wilson moved to New Orleans and settled into a day job while performing music on the side. Relocating to New York in the early 1980s, she started performing with talented young musicians such as saxophonist Steve Coleman. Although Wilson's late 1980s recordings for the small JMT label brought her critical praise, it was not until her move to Blue Note Records in 1993 that she received popular attention.

Critics hailed Wilson's first album for Blue Note, Blue Light 'Til Dawn (1993), as an entirely new kind of jazz record, one equally influenced by pop, blues, folk, and classic
jazz styles. With its bold covers of songs such as soul singer Ann Peebles's "I Can't Stand the Rain," the album appeals to mainstream listeners not accustomed to buying a jazz recording. What critics and fans found most arresting, however, was the album's atmospheric sound, created through the use of gentle percussion, acoustic guitar, and unusual devices such as the imitation of rustling grass. Mysterious and evocative, the album conjures a magical universe that Wilson's warm, brocaded voice inhabits with a command of mood. On the title track, featuring complex key changes led by a keening steel guitar, Wilson sings with an eerie otherworldliness, sounding like a woman summoning supernatural powers. The spectral low tones Wilson employs on "Tell Me You'll Wait for Me" unmask the warmth and passion hidden beneath her carefully assembled, quiet veneer.

Wilson released a similar-sounding album, New Moon Daughter, in 1996 and gained even greater attention for her highly personal versions of pop songs such as "Last Train to Clarksville," a 1960s hit by the Monkees. Despite her interest in pop Wilson does not neglect more traditional musical forms; on her passionate version of blues performer Son House's "Death Letter" she offers glimpses of the fire raging beneath her cool facade. By the late 1990s Wilson was widely acclaimed as a master artist, and in 2001 she was named "America's best singer" by Time magazine. Despite Wilson's renown, her sedate vocal style had its detractors. In 2002 the New York Times criticized her voice as lacking emotional depth: "Because it's more sumptuous than a voice has any right to be, it wavers perilously between seductiveness and self-parody."

Still, the passion and idiosyncrasy with which Wilson pursued her recording projects seemed to belie such an analysis. Refusing to follow an easy commercial path, Wilson in 1999 released an intelligent tribute to legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, and in 2001 traveled to the Mississippi Delta, the place of her birth and an area steeped in musical history, to record an album of blues-inspired music. The result, Belly of the Sun (2002), features the talents of great but neglected Mississippi musicians such as octogenarian pianist "Boogaloo" Ames. Recording in an old train station, Wilson and her band achieve a tight, cohesive sound, equal parts funk and smoothness. Her version of the Band's "The Weight" sounds laden with the soul-weariness of a long journey, while the stirring "Justice" imparts a social awareness rarely encountered in current pop and jazz music.

Through her talent and courageous musical exploration, Cassandra Wilson has fashioned one of the most successful careers in contemporary jazz. While her tastes are markedly eclectic, Wilson informs all of her material with a tone of reverence and hushed passion. Challenging musical boundaries, she has redefined the role of the jazz vocalist in the twenty-first century.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Blue Light 'Til Dawn (Blue Note, 1993); New Moon Daughter (Blue Note, 1996); Traveling Miles (Blue Note, 1999); Belly of the Sun (Blue Note, 2002).

WEBSITE:

www.cassandrawilson.com.

david freeland

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"Wilson, Cassandra." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Wilson, Cassandra." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/wilson-cassandra