Talent Cannot Be Silenced
by David R. Hoffman,
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru, January 22, 2004
It was a moment that rarely occurs in this unpredictable journey
called life, a moment locked in time, a moment to make one realize
that sometimes a voice cannot be silenced, even by death.
I do not recall what department store I was in, but I remember
the bland "shopping" music playing over the loudspeakers,
endeavoring to induce shoppers into buying products they did
not need with money they did not have. Suddenly, in this milieu
of vapid consumerism, the mundane music had been replaced by
an unforgettable voice, which drifted softly, almost hypnotically,
throughout the store.
I remember smiling at first, because the song this voice was
singing seemed curiously out of place. "What possible reason,"
I asked myself, "could any store have for playing something
as outdated as OVER THE RAINBOW?"-a song popularized by
the late Judy Garland in the 1939 motion picture The Wizard
But as I listened, I realized this was not the OVER THE RAINBOW
from my grandparents' generation. There was something magically
unique about it, vocal inflections-sometimes hesitant, sometimes
pronounced-that radiated new life into this timeless classic.
The rendition was bewitching, haunting and visionary all at
the same time.
A few weeks later, once again by chance, as I was engaged in
the "sport" of channel-surfing with my television's
remote control, I stumbled upon ABC's late-night news program
"NIGHTLINE." I normally did not watch this show, nor
indeed any of the rubbish the corporate-controlled media endeavor
to promote as "news." But the opening narration attracted
my attention as it briefly told the story of an unknown singer
who had become famous approximately five years after her untimely
death. It was then I discovered the origin of that mesmerizing
voice I had heard in the department store. It belonged to Eva
Eva Cassidy, the NIGHTLINE program explained, had been a nightclub
singer, performing primarily in and around the Washington D.C.
area. She had never sought fame, and, according to many of her
friends, would probably have been uncomfortable with it, even
though she possessed talent superior to many, if not most, of
the artificially manufactured "superstars" who inundate
the music industry.
She also refused to subscribe to one of the primary "rules"
of the record companies-that singers should confine themselves
to one musical genre. She performed folk, gospel, jazz, country,
rock and blues, and all exceedingly well. Although this was
an unmistakable testament to her extraordinary talent, it also
meant that she could not be compartmentalized and marketed to
a specific audience. Ironically, because of her insistence on
performing different styles of music, which appealed to everybody,
she appeared destined to reach nobody. So, in 1996, when she
passed away from melanoma at the age of thirty-three, her music
might have faded away as well, and, like a buried treasure,
the world would be poorer for losing a talent it had never even
But, to paraphrase from the classic folk song JOE HILL, "Sometimes
it takes more than death to kill someone. And Eva didn't die."
Approximately five years after her untimely passing, a British
tourist happened to purchase one of her locally released CDs
(compact discs) while touring the Washington D.C. area, and,
captivated by Eva's remarkable voice, subsequently convinced
a British radio personality to play her music on the air. This
led to her CD entitled SONGBIRD becoming a best seller in Great
Britain, and soon her music was being sold throughout the United
the world of popular culture, there is a proclivity to immortalize
those who die young. Frozen at the peak of their success, never
ravaged by time nor the transient nature of fame, those who
are forever young, like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Bruce Lee,
John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and countless others continue to inspire
new generations of fans.
But a premature and/or tragic death alone does not always guarantee
enduring fame. Sometimes the legacy of those who leave the world
far too soon is enjoyed only by small groups of dedicated people
who embrace the esoteric beauty and genius that "popular"
culture often disdains. Phil Ochs, Lenny Bruce, Nick Drake and
Harry Chapin, amongst others, are just some of those who are
Phil Ochs, a folk musician, refused, unlike many others of his
era, to go "mainstream." Consequently his songs never
became hits on "Top Ten" record charts. Lenny Bruce
cleared the pathway for many modern "stand-up" comedians
through his use of "curse" words as a form of satire
and social commentary, enduring, in the process, numerous criminal
prosecutions for "obscenity." Nick Drake, another
singer, had been relatively forgotten until his song 'PINK MOON"
was used as background for a television commercial, and singer/storyteller
Harry Chapin (who had been inspired by Phil Ochs) received little
air play because his songs were "too long" for radio.
Before his passing, Chapin had also devoted countless hours
and funds towards eliminating world hunger, ultimately founding
an organization called "World Hunger Year."
Still all of these individuals had, in varying degrees, achieved
some semblance of national fame or recognition during their
lifetimes, and that degree of fame or recognition often increased
(although sometimes only briefly) during the weeks or months
following their deaths. Eva Cassidy's story is unique because
she not only moved from virtual obscurity to worldwide fame
without ever achieving national recognition during her lifetime,
but she did so YEARS AFTER her untimely death.
There is a popular belief in America that if one works hard,
remains diligent, and has talent, he or she will ultimately
be rewarded. Unfortunately this has become, except in rare instances,
more myth than reality. In today's world, talent is often secondary
to marketing, promotion, and physical appearance, and hard work
is usually no match for nepotism and cronyism when it comes
to opening doors. The new American idol is excess, and its demigods
are the scions of inherited wealth, who have never had to work
or struggle to achieve their "success," yet are incessantly
fawned over by sycophantic media, as if the happenstance of
being born into the "right" family actually required
some effort or ability. But the legacy of Eva Cassidy proves
that sometimes true talent cannot be silenced.
Towards the end of his life, Phil Ochs expressed increasing
disillusionment with a world controlled by "cruel, cruel
machinery and terrible, heartless men." Those words still
resound with truth today in a world where warmongering, greed,
hatred, hypocrisy and deceit appear to be "attributes"
to be rewarded, instead of evils to be condemned.
In such a world Eva Cassidy would undoubtedly have been forgiven
if she chose not to sing "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD,"
a song made famous by the late Louie Armstrong, to an audience
gathered to pay tribute to her just days before she passed away.
But sing it she did, and in so doing helped us all remember
that in a world so often immersed in ugliness, sometimes beauty
can shine through. What a wonderful world this could be if such
beauty would linger just a little bit longer.