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Over the Rainbow Fans are finally discovering Eva Cassidy's legacy of soulful song

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This is american singer eva cassidy's moment. "I've rarely heard a voice of such purity," the pop star Sting said in the Washington Post. The music magazine Mojo praised Cassidy's "ability to draw every nuance of meaning and emotion from a well-crafted lyric." And fans sent her compilation album Songbird to No. 1 on the British charts. "She would be well pleased," says her father, Hugh. "She would also be a little embarrassed."

Would be, because Eva Cassidy died five years ago of cancer at age 33. In life, she shunned the limelight that shines on her work now. A Washington, D.C. native, she grew up in a musical home, singing, playing the guitar and listening to the likes of Bob Dylan and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Despite her talent, she drifted with little artistic direction until teaming up with producer Chris Biondo. He in turn paired her with go-go veteran Chuck Brown, who was stunned that a voice so versatile and robust belonged to a white woman. In 1992, Brown and Cassidy recorded a soulful, jazzy album, The Other Side, which Cassidy followed four years later with her own Live at Blues Alley.

Songbird takes tracks from those two albums as well as the posthumous release Eva by Heart, and shows Cassidy off as a one-woman catalog of American popular music. She reinterprets traditional pieces, like Wayfaring Stranger and Wade in the Water, as well as newer songs from Sting and Curtis Mayfield. She can belt out a tune, such as her gutsy gospel take on Pete Seeger's Oh, Had I a Golden Thread, or meander gently, as on her virtuoso version of Over the Rainbow.

Such range, though, may also have been her commercial downfall. While her vocals won the ears of music industry executives, Cassidy's refusal to specialize in a particular genre of music frustrated most record companies, which pressed for her to find a focus for marketing purposes. She stubbornly stayed her independent course, releasing her own CDs.

After her death in 1996, an indie label, Blix Street Records, signed to distribute her music in the U.S. while a tiny outfit called Hot Records bought the European rights. Martin Jennings, head of Hot, was a friend of a friend of bbc radio producer Paul Walters, who heard a Cassidy recording and was floored. Last year, British morning show host Terry Wogan played Cassidy's Over the Rainbow on Radio 2. "My screen lit up with hundreds of e-mails asking, îWhere can I get that?' " says Walters. Based on that demand, Hot put Songbird on wide release. bbc listeners voted Cassidy's Rainbow one of the best songs of the 20th century. And after a feature on Cassidy aired on the TV program Tonight with Trevor McDonald, Songbird vaulted to No. 1, two-and-a-half years after its first British release.

Word is slowly spreading across Europe. Zomba, Hot Records' German partner, is planning a major promotional push. And Cassidy has already hit the charts in the Netherlands, where the papers have praised the singer with "the voice of an angel."

Cassidy's family believes Eva knows that her music has made it-and on her own adamantly off-the-beaten-musical-path terms. What would she think? Perhaps the best answer comes from a song on her second posthumous album, Time After Time. The title? At Last.