In the late 1990’s Glenda and I lived in Annapolis, Maryland. There is a very real connection between Annapolis, Maryland and Annapolis, Nova Scotia. Both were named after Princess Anne of Denmark and Norway, who was to become to become Queen Anne of Great Britain 1665–1714. There are also a lot of similarities between Annapolis, Maryland and Halifax, Nova Scotia, that influenced our decision to move Annapolis, Maryland when I got transferred to Colombia, Maryland. Both cities are seaports, state/provincial capitals, university towns, are “military towns” and have those steeply inclined streets arising from the water. And lots of pubs and venues featuring local musical talent.
It did not take us long to realize that Annapolis, Maryland was Eva Cassidy’s town. Her music was played in countless shops and bars in Annapolis. The sad part was that she was deceased – at age 33. She was from the nearby town of Bowie, Maryland. Eva Marie Cassidy (February 2, 1963 – November 2, 1996) was an American singer and guitarist known for her interpretations of jazz, folk, and blues music, sung with a powerful, emotive soprano voice.
After Cassidy's death, local folk singer Grace Griffith introduced the Blues Alley recording to Bill Straw from her label, Blix Street Records. Straw approached the Cassidy family to put together a new album. In 1998, a compilation of tracks from Cassidy's three released recordings was assembled into the CD Songbird. This CD lingered in relative obscurity for two years until being given airplay by Terry Wogan on his wide reaching BBC Radio 2 show Wake Up to Wogan following recommendation by his producer Paul Walters. The album sold more than 100,000 copies in the following months. The New York Times spoke of her "silken soprano voice with a wide and seemingly effortless range, unerring pitch and a gift for phrasing that at times was heart-stoppingly eloquent. When I am on the road for any length of time Songbird is the first CD that gets played. A superb talent whose life was cut short by cancer.
Earlier this week, when I picked up a book featuring the photographs of Susan Greenberg, it did not take long before the thoughts of Eva Cassidy came flooding into my mind, for Susan also succumbed to cancer at a young age - 44. And like Eva, I had never heard of Susan. But even today many have not heard of Susan Greenberg. Eva’s music is wondrously available while Susan’s photography is on the precipice of disappearance. These two young talented ladies had a shared passion – blues. Eva was a musical talent and Susan was a recorder of musical talent – specifically Chicago Blues from the 1990s.
What follows is my description, one of my longest ever, of the posthumous publication of Susan’s work by her family, as a fond farewell to an incredible talent that strove to record the musicians that were the Chicago Blues in the last decade of the twentieth century.
Thank you, Susan, you will not be forgotten.
Reaching for the Light: the Chicago Blues photography of Susan Greenberg; introduction by Sterling D. Plump, Emeritus Professor of English and African Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago; forward by Dr. Stephen O’Harrow, Professor University of Hawai’i; edited by Adam Holtzman, book design by Al Cout; published by the Susan Greenberg Living Trust, 2007.
This book was published shortly after Susan Greenberg’s death in 2007, a victim of lymphoma at age 44. Pasted inside the front cover is the following initialled note from her family – March 2008: Dear family and friends, It is with a mixture of sorrow and pleasure that we send you this
book – Reaching for the Light – a collection of Susan’s photographs. These 53 photographs represent just a small percentage of several thousand photographs that Susan took between 1992 and 1998 in Chicago. Susan had a single-minded devotion to the project of documenting blues musicians. She left behind a body of work which captures and celebrates the essence of Chicago Blues. We know that Susan would be pleased with this collection, and hope that you enjoy it as well. Aubrey, Judy, Jessica, Georgia (Susan’s parents and two sisters). Susan left behind her life partner Lurrie Bell, blues performer, and daughter, Aria. From a quote on the back of the dust jacket – Susan Greenberg’s photographs capture the raw, passionate essence of blues performance and the joyous effect that the music has on its listeners. They are full of emotional depth, and each viewing brings new insight into this quintessentially American music and those who create it - Bruce Iglauer, President and Founder, Alligator Records. From the introduction – Between 1991 and 2001, Greenberg photographed some 291 blues singers and musicians. Susan was able to know post Chess recording artists: Magic Slim, Buddy Guy, Luther Allison, Willie Kent, Billie Branch, Lurrie Bell and Deitra Farr; therefore, her work links generations of blues singers. Yet there is something far more distinguishing in Greenberg’s photography, something that sheer technical dexterity cannot measure. This is so because part of Greenberg’s quest – her reach for the light – is her sojourn into the people and culture of blues. I would surmise that Susan intuitively knew that if blues music is her true subject, then she had to know the culture and the people who spawned it. Susan Greenberg’s supreme legacy in art resides in the indelible impressions of blues singers and musicians in their acts of blues making. This is significant because Susan had to gain access to a culture and a people that no mere passport of courtesy could guarantee. Susan’s commitment to, love for, and rare eye to capture the blues leads one to the conclusion that she interacted with blues, blues singers and musicians and blues people with such a passion and dedication that she has in fact, affected an adoption.
This large format book, pages measuring 10.5” X 12.5” is in fine condition in a fine dust jacket. This book is extremely rare, published for family and friends, and is incredibly insightful into the Chicago Blues scene in the late twentieth century.