Happy Birthday Cassandra Wilson
In this performance clip from the early 1990’s Cassandra Wilson sings “Round Midnight” backed by a trio including drummer Carter Beauford.
Cassandra Wilson was born on December 4, 1955 in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the third and youngest child of Herman Fowlkes, Jr., a guitarist, bassist and music teacher; and Mary McDaniel, an elementary school teacher who eventually earned her PhD in education. Between her mother’s love for Motown and her father’s dedication to jazz, Wilson’s parents sparked her early interest in music.
Wilson’s earliest formal musical education consisted of classical lessons; she studied piano from the age of six to thirteen and played clarinet in the middle school concert and marching bands. When she tired of this training, she asked her father to teach her the guitar. Instead, he gave her a lesson in self-reliance, suggesting she study Mel Bay method books. Wilson explored guitar on her own, developing what she has described as an “intuitive” approach. During this time she began writing her own songs, adopting a folk style. She also appeared in the musical theater productions, including The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy, crossing racial lines in a recently desegregated school system.
Wilson attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University graduating with a degree in mass communications. Outside of the classroom, she spent her nights working with R&B, funk, and pop cover bands, also singing in local coffeehouses. The Black Arts Music Society, founded by John Reese and Alvin Fielder, provided her with her first opportunities to perform bebop.
In 1981, she moved to New Orleans for a position as assistant public affairs director for the local television station, WDSU. She did not stay long. Working with mentors who included elder statesmen Earl Turbinton, Alvin Batiste, and Ellis Marsalis, Wilson found encouragement to seriously pursue jazz performance and moved to New York City the following year.
*Cassandra Wilson has won two Grammy Awards as the result of her ability to incorporate multiple genres into her work,