The Lady Is a Tramp: I Heart Cassandra Wilson


No profundities as to why I love this jazz vocalist so much.

I can go on and on about how she is a paragon of womanhood to me as I move into my middle ages. She reminds me that love and crushes and sex don't need the glove-tossing and the chaise lounge-fainting and the self-perceived gilded, angel-trumpeting statements. Those things will come because you're living, her voice seems to say, no need to chase or, worse, invent it.

And that it's utterly cool to whisper in your lover's ear and on the throat exactly what you want and how that person makes you feel when zie does it. Hell, it's utterly cool to know exactly what you want sexually, even when you don't have a lover. And let it wrap around you like a lover's whisper.

Yes, there's that.

And the idea of her wearing dreads in an entertainment industry that seems to only imagine—and reward–black women in lacefront wigs and weaves.

And it's the fact that Wilson possesses a rare quality in music: a deep singing voice. Anymore, what's getting rewarded by constant airplay is women with over-mellismatic mezzo-soprano trillings, thanks to record companies chasing after the next Beyoncé or trying to snap up the next American Idol. The last women to have Wilson's voice quality were Anita Baker and Me'Shell Ndegeocello. Nowadays, a woman possessing a voice like Wilson would get transmisogynistic guff.

With that voice—and her incredible phrasing–Wilson can turn almost any song into a standard for the America Songbook. "Last Train to Clarksville?" To my ears, she sings the definitive version. U2's "Love Is Blindness?" After she sings it, I wonder why it's not in other jazz vocalists' repertoire, right along with "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Cheek to Cheek," or "My Funny Valentine."

Here's Wilson, for those who've never heard her before and for fans like me.

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5 comments have been made. Post a comment.


Wow, I had only heard her name in passing before, and had never listened to the music...I regret that now!

I'm going to go look up some more info on her...thanks! So far, I'm swooning all over the place :)


I Think, Therefore I Am Dangerous.

Great post!

Great post! I'm reaching for my headphones...

Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
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Love this version of Harvest Moon. And the way you describe her: "She reminds me that love and crushes and sex don’t need the glove-tossing and the chaise lounge-fainting and the self-perceived gilded, angel-trumpeting statements. Those things will come because you’re living..."

Kristin Rogers Brown, Art Director
Why, yes! We do have a Comments Policy...

<3 Cassandra

I love Cassandra Wilson as well. Especially the fact that her voice is deep, it's much easier to sing along to. I can manage with Beyonce until she starts doing, as you said, the mezzo-soprano vocal gymnastics. But Cassandra, I'm with her the whole way through.

Wilson's "I'm So Lonesome I

Wilson's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" has long been one of my favorites. If you have opportunity to see her in concert, get to that show by hell or high water. I saw her in a tiny theater and a pretty large venue, and in both places she made me feel she was singing just to me... just for herself. Amazing.