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A heart-shaped self-portrait with a wistful smile and the handwritten inscription “God Bless You!” adorn the card I received several weeks ago from Eva Cassidy, thanking me for reviewing her first solo CD. The 33-year-old singer-guitarist succumbed to cancer Nov. 2 at her home in Bowie, Md. Death is seldom timely, but Cassidy’s passing was especially premature, occurring just as she was on the brink of achieving national recognition.

The word “angel” has recurred in recent conversations I’ve had with people who knew and loved Cassidy. To them, everything about her possessed an ethereal quality—her fair, blue-eyed beauty, her generous, modest personality, her artistic sensibility (she painted, made ceramics, and designed jewelry), her nurturing spirit (she worked as a plant propagator at Behnke’s nursery for 15 years), and, of course, her music. On Live at Blues Alley, Cassidy’s crystalline voice and lacy guitar figures tenderly embrace love songs, particularly the exquisite “Fields of Gold,” and even when she shouts the bitter blues “Stormy Monday,” her soulfulness is tinged with traces of irrepressible sweetness.

In the past year, according to her friend and manager Al Dale, Cassidy had overcome her insecurity about live performance, successfully making the transition from studio backup singer. Her first featured recording, The Other Side, a robust collection of standards and blues duets with go-go singer Chuck Brown, was issued in 1992. She sang on several tracks of Pieces of a Dream’s Goodbye Manhattan, released last year, and her locally distributed Blues Alley album, taped in January 1996, has enjoyed critical acclaim and impressive sales. A month before her death, she completed a forthcoming studio CD showcasing ballads that she was unable to include on her solo debut. Cassidy departed before she could leave an extensive musical legacy, but clearly she belongs to that exclusive company of short-lived artists—James Dean and filmmaker Jean Vigo spring immediately to mind—whose work serves as beacons for future generations.

A memorial celebration of Eva Cassidy’s life is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19 at the Sweetgum area of Greenbelt National Park. In lieu of flowers, her family requests that contributions be made in her memory to the Johns Hopkins Fund for Melanoma Research, The Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, Room 2221, 1620 McElderry St., Baltimore, MD 21205-1911.—Joel E. Siegel