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Cassandra Wilson Biography

Home > Music > W > Wilson, Cassandra > Biography

Born: 1955/12/04
Birth Place: Jackson, Mississippi, United States
Years Active: 1985—present
Genres: Jazz, Blues

Cassandra Wilson was born on December 4, 1955 in Jackson, Mississippi and is a jazz musician, singer, and songwriter, who incorporates country, blues, and folk music into her sound. Wilson has won two Grammy Awards throughout her musical career and credits her parent's love for Motown music and jazz music as the inspiration and encouragement she needed to embark on a musical career. Wilson’s love for music began with classical music lessons in piano from the age of six to thirteen, she then moved on to playing the clarinet in middle school, and became part of the marching band in high school. As a teen, Wilson's father taught her to play the guitar. During this time Wilson began to write her own songs and develop her own style, adopting a folk music sound.

While in college, Wilson played with local R&B, funk, and pop cover bands, in addition to singing in local coffeehouses. 1981 saw Wilson move to New Orleans for a position as assistant on the local television station, WDSU. From there, Wilson move to New York City to pursue jazz performance and began to delve into scat and bebop. While in New York, Wilson met alto saxophonist Steve Coleman and founded the M-Base collective with him; Wilson taking on the role of lead vocalist. Wilson appeared on a number of M-Base and Coleman recordings, such as Coleman's debut, “Motherland Pulse” (1985); “On the Edge of Tomorrow” (1986); “World Expansion” (1986); “Sine Die” (1987); and “Anatomy of a Groove” (1992). In addition to her work with Coleman, Wilson toured with the trio 'New Air' featuring alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill.

Wilson signed with the independent label JMT and released her debut recording, “Point of View” in 1986. A serious of albums followed that featured music co-written with Coleman, Jean-Paul Bourelly, and James Weidman. Wilson gained attention, fans, and respect from her peers due to the versatility of her vocal range; however it was the album, “Blue Skies” in 1988 that won Wilson critical acclaim. 1993 saw Wilson switch labels and sign with Blue Note Records, the move represented a pivotal point in her career, as she managed to cross over with her music and breakthrough to mainstream audiences while at the label. “Blue Light 'Til Dawn” (1993) showcased a mixture of blues, pop, jazz, world music, and country, which appealed to a broader audience. Wilson covered songs such as Joni Mitchell's “Black Crow,” The Monkees' “Last Train to Clarksville,” and Hank Williams' “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Her ability to connect vocal jazz with its blues roots was nothing short of astounding.

Wilson's 1996 album, “New Moon Daughter” garnered her a Grammy Award for 'Best Jazz Vocal Performance.' The following year saw Wilson on the road with Wynton Marsalis. Wilson, a long-time fan of Miles Davis, performed as the opening act for Davis at the JVC Jazz Festival in Chicago in 1989. A decade later in 1999 she produced “Traveling Miles” as a tribute to Davis. The album featured a series of jazz concerts that Wilson performed in Davis' honor.