A Few of Her Many Songs
- Strange Fruit
- Love Is Blindness
- Solomon Sang
- Death Letter
- Find Him
- I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
- Last Train To Clarksville
- Harvest Moon
Photo at right: Cassandra Wilson at the Mississippi
Governor's Awards in 2009 at which she received the Artistic
Excellence in Music Award. . Photo by Nancy Jacobs
- Day Aweigh - 1987
- Point of View - 2001
- Blue Skies – 1988
- Jumpworld-- 1990
- She Who Weeps – 1991
- Cassandra Wilson Live - 1992
- Dance To Drums Again – 1993
- After the Beginning Again - 1994
- Blue Night Til' Dawn - 1993
- After the Beginning Again - 1994
- New Moon Daughter – 1996
- Best of Genre, Songbook - 1996
- Traveling Miles- 1999
- Let's Get Lost--2001
- Point of View--2001
- Days Aweigh-- 2002
- Belly of the Sun-- 2002
- Blue Skies--2002
- Cassandra Wilson Sings Standards--2003
- Glamoured --2003
- Loverly 2008 (Winner of Grammy
- Closer to You: The Pop Side--2009
Cassandra Wilson: A Biography
By Nicole Nelson (SHS)
Cassandra Wilson is often described as not only an accomplished
jazz vocalist and composer but also as a lyricist, producer,
musical director, guitarist and pianist (Myers 1E).
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1955, Cassandra Wilson
has been singing and performing since she sang at her brother’s
kindergarten graduation at the age of five. The youngest of
three children, Wilson began playing the piano and guitar at
the age of nine. Cassandra attributes her interest in music
to her parents. Her mother, who is a retired elementary school
teacher, and father, who is a bass guitarist, often sang to
her as a small child. Her father introduced her to jazz (Yanow).
Jazz was not a very popular form of music during the 1960’s,
but Cassandra loved it so much that she wanted to share it with
others (Nelson). Wilson took lessons in classical piano for
six years, before learning to play acoustic guitar. She enjoyed
experimenting with the guitar, and the instrument soon became
her favorite. Between the ages of eleven and fifteen, she wrote
about twenty original songs
A former classmate,
Dr. Phillip Nelson, recalls a time when she shared her
new found love for jazz with the entire student body at a Jackson's
Powell Junior High School talent show. “You have to remember
that at that time the only thing we listened to was R&B,
and she got on stage with a guitar and played a type of music
no one had really heard before. It was much like a ballad,
and although she didn’t get a lot of attention (there
was a lot of talking going on), she didn’t get booed off
stage either. I was impressed by the courage she demonstrated
to sing an alternative selection. She sang well.
She had great stage presence, and although she didn’t
play anything popular, she was good enough to have people stand
there and listen to her, and that’s when I realized that
she had broader experiences, at least musically, than most people
at that age. She sang that song because she loved it,
and she didn’t care if you liked that song or not, and
I respected her for that” (Nelson).
When Cassandra was in the ninth grade, the schools were
desegregated in Mississippi. Her ninth and tenth grade
years were difficult as Cassandra recalls but were better
for the remainder of her high school years. Despite the racial
tensions that were present at her new school setting, she eventually
adjusted to her environment. In the eleventh grade she
got the leading role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
“ For all the negative aspects, experiencing things that
were different from what I knew was also exciting,” says
Cassandra in an interview for The Oxford American
in its 1997 music issue ( Woodworth 31). Obtaining the
star role in the high school musical was not the first time
Cassandra stepped over the color lines and made a mark for herself
and others. During her last years in high school, Wilson formed
a musical group with two young men who were both white. “She
had difficulty (with classmates) because of the
relationship she chose to have, but you had to respect the choice
she made”(Horhn). Wilson saw her interracial music group
as a growing period for her life as well as for others.
“Music was the way we (blacks and whites) came together.
We traded albums at school. I remember hearing James
Taylor and then really getting into Joni Mitchell. I turned
some of my friends on to jazz they hadn’t heard before”
After obtaining a degree from Jackson State University in mass
communication, Wilson moved from Mississippi to New Orleans
and worked as an assistant in Public Affairs at a local television
station. In 1982, Wilson moved to New York. She began
recording widely in the 1980’s initially with Steve Coleman
and Henry Threadgill’s New Air group. She
became the main vocalist with their M/Base collection. During
her first decade in New York, she released seven records on
the JMT/Verve label while she also sang on other innovative
projects for other singers (Woodworth 31). By 1993 she
had sung on ten albums produced by JMT records with a
wide variety of New York musicians, including Mulgrew Miller
and Greg Osby (Carr 701).
music has often been compared to artists like Betty Carter,
Nina Simone, and Shirley Horn, whom she also considers to be
some of her musical influences. Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaugh
also influenced her (Murray C1). Cassandra has come a
long way from her high school music group and late night singing
at local clubs. Cassandra now concentrates more on the
pure innovative production of her own music albums. If Cassandra
Wilson’s intentions are to open people’s eyes to
the broadness of her music through the messages in her songs,
then she is well on her way to achieving her goal. Wilson’s
emotional range and tone variations impress many critics, audiences,
and fellow musicians. Many critics write that she is one of
the most promising musicians on the horizon (Myers E-1). She
has received many awards due to her sensual and soulful
voice. In her own hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, she
was selected to receive the 1997 Governor’s Award for
excellence in the Arts. Unfortunately, she was unable
to accept this award due to her tour with Wynton Marsalis. Her
tour, entitled Blood on the Fields, was
Grammy nominated for best vocal performance (Lucas). Wilson
won the “best jazz vocalist” Grammy award for her
album New Moon Daughter (Clevenger). Her album
New Moon Daughter has been described as one of her best
albums, with vocals that carry sultry and contralto undertones
(Murray C1). Cassandra’s album Blue Light
Til’ Dawn was so well done that it won her
the Downbeat’s “Singer of the Year”
title for 1994 and 1995. In 1996, this album also won her the
same honor in Down Beat’s Critic poll (Clevenger).She
also has appeared on screen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie
Wilson is not overly concerned with what other people think of her or
how she performs. She was named “most important and daring
jazz vocalist” by Time magazine in 1996. According
to one writer for the internet website “Lush Lives,” Cassandra Wilson
is one of the top jazz singers of the 1990’s. The writer
continues, "Blessed with a distinctive and flexible voice, she is not
afraid to take chances (Yanow). Listeners can only wonder if
Cassandra’s unique sense of singing is what attributes to her rising
success. “I’m interested in crossing boundaries,” explains
Wilson, “to be able to operate in several worlds at once is the result
of being open minded, whether in music or some other part of the
experience. I still believe that things have to fall apart before
something new can emerge. That’s true for everything, including
expresses herself through her music. She has become well loved
and admired because of her ability not only to sell
her music, but herself in the process. Senator John
Horhn states that the reason Cassandra has become so successful
is because she makes the music her own. “That in turn
is why people love her so much, because you feel what she is
trying to tell you” (Horhn Interview). Wilson sings with
the intent of getting a message to her listeners. She sings
with her heart and so much of her soul that it seems as though
she is literally singing to you (Nelson interview). “
However much this life consumes me, however unbalanced things
get, I always want to remember that when I look into someone
else’s eyes I am seeing myself” (Woodworth 34).
There is absolutely no doubt to that at the rate Cassandra is
going, her contralto, sensual voice and down-to-earth personality
will draw a lot of fans for a long time to come.
Since winning the Grammy award for her vocal stylings on New
Moon Daughter in 1997, the call of the Delta has
been beckoning her. She is currently working on a CD with
81-year-old Boogaloo Ames and his partner Eden Brent tentatively
to be called Belly of the Sun. (Note:
Belly of the Sun was produced but
without Ames or Brent--possibly due to the death of Ames. The
CD was also to include Jackson musicians Jesse Robinson on guitar,
Nellie McGinnis on bass, and Rhonda Richmond on guitar).
2009 UPDATE: Cassandra Wilson won a Grammy
Award for her album Loverly in 2009
as well as the 2009 Mississippi Governor's Award for Artistic
Excellence in Music.
Cassandra Wilson: A Biography II
By Kim Sudduth (SHS)
Cassandra Wilson was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1957.
She had an interesting childhood. She studied piano from the
age of nine, began writing her own songs at the age of twelve,
and began performing at the age of nineteen. She
attended Jackson State University and earned a degree in communications.
She was an assistant in public affairs in New Orleans.
She met saxophonist Earl Turbinton, who became a mentor for
is her favorite type of music, but her first performances
around Mississippi and Arkansas were folk music. Many singers
like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Betty Carter have influenced
her music. Wilson's father, Herman Fowlkes, was a jazz musician
who played guitar and bass. Her mom was an elementary school
teacher. She is the youngest of three children. Although
she is from Jackson, Mississippi, she now lives in New
Wilson was married to Anthony Wilson from 1981 to 1983. She
has a son, Jeris, born in the late 1980s. She and her son lived
in Harlem, New York, for awhile. In 2000, Wilson married actor
Isaach de Bankolé, who directed her in the concert film
Traveling Miles: Cassandra Wilson
Wilson has won several awards for her music on her album named New Moon Daughter. She was named female singer of the year in 1994 and 1995 in (DownBeat Reader’s Poll), and her album was No.1 for Best Music of 1996 (Time Magazine,1993). Ebony selected her one of America’s fifteen most beautiful black women. She has been on the cover of Essence magazine. DownBeat Magazines selected her Female vocalist of the year for 1996. Esquire named her one of the year's “Women we love” under the headlines “Diva of Desire.” A New York Times critic has called the album “One of the best albums of decade.” Time Magazine says that she is the most accomplished jazz vocalist of her time. Her album New Moon Daughter
on Blue Note Records is about different kinds of relationships and the
cycles they go through. She was the first singer of her generation to
win Jazz Vocalist of the year in 1993. The song “Blue Light til
Dawn" examines her roots in jazz music. Her album New Moon Daughter
won a Grammy award in 1997. However, Wilson's musical interests
range from jazz to popular music, rhythm and blues to folk, blues to
Interview with Senator John Horhn (Childhood friend of Cassandra
by Nicole Nelson
Photo below: Sen. John Horhn
What was she like as a child?
“She was a tomboy. We used to climb trees together, and she always used to beat me to the top.”
Have you ever heard her sing in person?
“Yes. She has a wonderful, rich, full, melancholy
voice. She sings from her heart, and she winds
up selling you her thoughts and feelings at the same time
you’re enjoying the melody of her song. She sings
with passion. She always wants people to remember who and
where they are. She makes a statement with her music.”
Was she popular in high school?
“Yes. She was popular. People warm up to
her; there is no way you can talk to her and not like her.
In high school she had difficulty because of the person she
chose to date, but you had to respect the choice she made.
She made Who’s Who and Hall of Fame. She loves the idea
of being able to come home and no one knows who she
is. She’s loyal to her friends. She’s
mischievous; she’s witty; and she loves to laugh at
a good joke. She uses her music to convey her feelings.”
When was the last time you spoke with her?
“Last time, was this past fall (1997), when she came down to do a charity concert in Jackson.”
Does she do a lot of performances?
She’s really popular in New York, and the countries overseas just love her. She goes out of the country quite a bit.
know that in order to do things you must have normally have your family
behind you. Does her family support her musical career?
Her father was a bass musician himself. She was very
close to her father, the spitting image of him, but she had
an estranged relationship with her mother. At first
her mother didn’t support her music career, but now
they have grown a lot closer. The song “Mama’s
Little Baby,” she just recently recorded is a lullaby
her mom sang to her as a baby. I’d have to say
that this song was a major point of healing for them both,
even though they had patched things up way before this.
It’s a beautiful tribute, (and) beautiful song.”
What is she doing now?
lot of touring. She writes about one half of the material she’s
recording now. On December 26, 1997, she was here in on Jackson to do a
concert for Alpha Kappa Alpha. She donated her services to the
group (her mom is an AKA). She opened with the song “Strange
Fruit” by Billie Holiday. She did one movie soundtrack, and a
commercial for the new Jaguar car. She sang over another
song; it went very well together. It was mystical. If
there were one word to describe Cassandra’s voice, it would be
How would you describe Cassandra Wilson?
extremely, extremely intelligent, and extremely, extremely, extremely
beautiful. Most beautiful woman in there with the Halle Berrys
and Vanessa Williamses of the world. She’s comfortable with
herself, which in turn makes you comfortable with her. Anyone who meets
her loves her; she has a wonderful personality!
1955- Cassandra Wilson is born in Jackson, Mississippi
1964- takes lessons playing the piano at age nine
1976- begins studies at Jackson State University
1978- 1981- performs as a solo folk guitarist, as lead vocalist
for a group called These Days
1980- graduates from Jackson State University with a mass communications
1981- moves to New Orleans and works as an assistant public
affairs director at a television station
1982- moves to New York
1986- first album put out, Point of View, blends
jazz, R & B, rock, reggae, and Latin rhythms
1987- her second album, Day Aweigh, is released
1988- she records her third album entitled Blue Skies
1990- she records her fourth album, JumpWorld
1991- She Who Weeps is released. Her mother writes
the title track, and her father plays the bass
1992- Cassandra Wilson Live album recreates her
live performance in concert at Munich Corart
1993- After the Beginning Again is recorded (available
only in Europe and Japan)
1993- she signs with Blue Note recording industry and produces
album, Blue Night Til' Dawn
1994 -named “female singer of the year” by Downbeat
1995- again named “female singer of the year” by
Downbeat Reader’s Poll
1996- named “most important and daring jazz vocalist”
by Time magazine
1997 Grammy award for New Moon Daughter
2001-Plans to release Belly of the Sun with Mississippians
Boogaloo Ames and Eden Brent
2009--Winner of Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her
album Loverly and MS Governor's Award
for Artistic excellence in Music.
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE
Wilson's Official Web Site provides biography and other
Jackson, Mississippi, headlines
Cassandra Wilson: Miss. honors 'America's best singer.'
biography of Cassandra Wilson.
Cassandra Wilson's page includes the following: [Discography]
[Filmography] [Links] [Articles] [Citations] [Other albums]
[Video tapes ] [Cassandra on stage].
Rose interviews Cassandra Wilson and states that she
has been hailed as the greatest female jazz vocalist of her
generation. She is from Mississippi, but her music was
shaped in New Orleans as well as in New York, where she currently
lives. Her latest record, New Moon Daughter, has won rave reviews.
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE
Blumenfield, Larry B. “Cassandra Wilson”.n. pg. Online. Internet. June 1996. Available http://www.musicblvd.com
Carr, Ian, Digby, Fairweather, and Brian Priestley. Jazz: The Rough Guide. London: Penguin Books, 1995.
Andrew. “Jazz Profiles: New Moon Divas”.n. pag. Online. Internet. 20
April 1998. Available
Horhn, John Senator. Telephone Interview. April 20, 1998.
Lucas, Sherry. “Schedule Keeps Singer from Mississippi Award.” The Clarion Ledger. Feb. 24, 1997.
Murray, Sonia. “Cassandra Wilson: Daring Daughter of Jazz.” The Atlantic Journal. April 29, 1996.
Myers, Leslie. “She’s So Hot.” The Clarion Ledger. April 24, 1994.
Nelson, Phillip Dr. Personal Interview. April 12, 1998.
Pettus, Gary. “Homesick Blues Can’t Claim Her.” The Clarion Ledger. June 19, 1987.
Woodworth, Marc. “Cassandra Wilson: As told to Marc Woodworth.” The Oxford American. Vol.16. 1997.
Scott. “Lush Lives: Lady of Jazz from 1930 to 1990”.n.pag. Online.
World Wide Web. 20 April 1996. Available