Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1955, Cassandra Wilson was destined for a life in music. She began playing clarinet at the age of 10, and soon switched to saxophone. After studying at Jackson State University, she moved to New York in 1982 and launched her career in jazz. For over 30 years, Cassandra has been one of the most influential voices in jazz music. Her unique style combines elements of blues, gospel and soul, making her one of the most versatile performers in the business.
Cassandra Wilson’s childhood
She began playing clarinet at the age of ten, switching to saxophone shortly afterwards. After studying at Jackson State University, she moved to New York in 1982 to pursue a career in jazz music.
Cassandra Wilson’s musical influences
A versatile artist, Cassandra Wilson draws her style from blues, gospel and soul music. She has cited Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan among her greatest influences.
Cassandra Wilson’s career
Cassandra Wilson’s career began when she was 7 years old. Her father played guitar and her mother sang gospel songs to her. Cassandra also enjoyed singing around the house with her siblings.
At the age of 13, Cassandra joined a gospel choir and met blues guitarist Robert Lockwood Jr. who became a major influence on her musical life.
In 1980, Cassandra Wilson moved to New York to pursue a musical career with saxophonist James Moody and pianist Stanley Cowell.
In 1983, Cassandra released her debut album “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn” on the Black Saint label, which became a modest success in the USA.
In 1984, she was named one of the top ten new artists of the year by “Down Beat” magazine.
In 1986, Cassandra moved to Chicago while playing and recording with Moody and Cowell. Between 1986 and 1992, Cassandra Wilson released six albums: “Blues Ballads & Ballads”, “The Song Bird”, (1989), “C’est ton monde” (1991), “Dans la langue de mes rêves” (1992), “L’incroyable grâce de la vie” (1993) and “Regard to Chaos” (1993).
Wilson’s success began at the age of 20, when she won a Grammy in 1991 for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for her album The Songbird.
In 1993, Wilson won three Grammy Awards: Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Best Gospel Album and Best Contemporary Jazz Album.
Cassandra Wilson is known for her “jazz-fusion” style of music, which incorporates elements of jazz, soul, blues and African traditions. She has been recognized for her vocal interpretations of songs by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Parrainé Wilson has won a total of ten Grammy Awards, six in the jazz genre. She is one of the most nominated artists in Grammy Awards history. Wilson is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Berklee College, Boston.
How has Cassandra Wilson influenced other musicians?
Cassandra Wilson has been cited as an influence by a number of other musicians. Her unique blend of genres has inspired many performers to experiment with their own sound. What’s more, her willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of jazz has encouraged other artists to do the same. As a result, Cassandra Wilson’s impact on the music industry is considerable.
From 1983 to 1998, Wilson released a total of eight albums, including three live albums:
- Killing Me Softly (1983)
- Point Of View (1986)
- Blue Skies (1988)
- Jumpworld (1991)
- New Moon Daughter (1995)
- Rendezvous (1998)
- Live at the 11th Hour (1999)
- Glamoured (2003)
Each of his albums explores different sounds and themes, combining jazz, soul, blues, classical and pop music. Wilson has also collaborated with artists from many different musical horizons, including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, McCoy Tyner and Mino Cinelu.
The legendary “Blue Light ’til Dawn” album
In 1993, the album Blue Light ’til Dawn marked a break with the artist’s previous productions. The album is considered one of his greatest hits, and continues to inspire jazz fans around the world.
On “Blue Light ’til Dawn”, Cassandra turns to a more intimate repertoire, composed exclusively of acoustic ballads. Each song offers a contrasting and inventive interpretation of the traditional melodies: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Harvest Moon” and “Summertime” offer us a new and singular vision of these standards.
This album marked the high point of the artist’s career. It contains the essential ingredients that make Cassandra Wilson such an outstanding artist: dynamism, innovation and authenticity.
Releases and awards
Wilson released her first album, “Song Cycle”, in 1987. The album has since gone platinum and earned Wilson a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Wilson’s second album, “Hoodoo”, was released in 1989. This album included the single “Miss You Like Crazy”.
Wilson also sang on the title track of Michael Jackson’s 1991 album, “Dangerous”.
His third studio album, “Add Some Music”, was released in 1992.
The first single from this release was the Grammy-nominated “Let’s Stay Together”. Wilson released his fourth album, “This Is N’T It”, in 1994. This album featured new versions of songs Wilson had previously recorded.
His fifth album, “What’s Inside: Songs from the Motion Picture”, was released in 1995. The soundtrack to the film “Romeo Must Die” won Wilson the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album. Wilson released his sixth album, “Rhythm of My Heart”, in 2003.
His seventh studio album, “Deluxe”, was released in 2005. Wilson released her eighth studio album, “Velvet Portraits”, on March 23, 2010.
Cassandra Wilson’s private life
Cassandra Wilson’s private life is not as well known as her musical career.
She has been married twice, first to drummer Jeff Haynes, then to saxophonist Steve Coleman.
She has two daughters, one from each marriage.
In recent years, she has divided her time between her homes in New York and Mississippi. Cassandra Wilson is a private person and doesn’t share much about her personal life with the public.
Her influence on popular music
After a career spanning more than 30 years, Cassandra Wilson remains an innovative and influential artist. Her albums have sold worldwide, and she is considered one of the most important voices in modern jazz. Her unique style and spontaneous performances evoke intense feelings in her listeners.
She has been honored by leading magazines, including Rolling Stone, Time, People and Down Beat, who have called her “the greatest living jazz singer”. Her music has inspired generations of musicians and continues to influence contemporary artists.
In short, Cassandra Wilson is considered an international jazz legend. For over 30 years, she has explored and fused different musical genres, including jazz, blues, soul and pop. Her albums are recognized and appreciated worldwide, and she has been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts for her contribution to popular culture. Her work and music continue to inspire musicians and listeners the world over.
Other jazz singers
Harry Connick Jr.
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Ricki Lee Jones
Ella Mae Morse
Oscar Brown Jr.
Janis Siegel (Manhattan Transfer)
Big Joe Turner