Read any of the dozen or so biographies on jazz-pop chanteuse Cassandra Wilson and you'll discover some basics. She was born and reared in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s and '70s by musician and educator parents. She studied piano for 13 years and played clarinet in junior high concert and marching bands. During the '70s, she could be found performing Joni Mitchell songs behind an acoustic guitar, in front of a large funk band, or in the company of longtime friends in an all-girls band.
In the '80s, Wilson moved to New Orleans and performed with Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis. Quite by accident, she was relocated to East Orange, New Jersey, where she made a decision to take her chances on the New York jazz scene. After a stint as the main vocalist with Steve Coleman's M-Base Collective, she began recording on her own.
Her development can be tracked through her discography. From the standards on Blue Skies (1988) to the Grammy-winning New Moon Daughter (1995), and from the combination of originals and interpretations played by a collection of Mississippi and New York musicians on both the Belly of the Sun (2001) and Glamoured (2003), to her more recent albums Thunderbird (2006) and Loverly (2008), Wilson has always continued evolving as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer.
Silver Pony, Wilson's most recent album, is the latest step in her evolution. Released at the end of 2010, the album is a unique hybrid, moving seamlessly between live recordings from a European tour and studio recordings laid down at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans. The project was produced by Wilson and John Fischbach and features a mix of jazz and pop classics, as well as songs newly written by Wilson and her band.
In addition to her own releases, in 2000 Wilson returned to Mississippi to establish Ojah Media Group, an independent multi-media entity dedicated to documenting and marketing the unique sounds emanating from Mississippi's fertile soil and its multi-cultural influences. The group's roster includes Yoruban musician Lekan Babalola and singer-songwriter Rhonda Richmond.
Wilson is a world-renowned vocalist, songwriter, and producer, with an extraordinary following. But projects like Ojah and Silver Pony reveal that, at heart, she is still a Mississippi girl whose art reflects her deep musical and cultural roots, anchored in the fertile Mississippi soil.
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