When Cassandra Wilson Turned on Her Blue Light

The rapper Nas will be touring this summer, performing in full the material from his breakthrough 1994 recording, “Illmatic,” 20 years after its initial release.
Blue Note Records, through its new parent company, Universal Music, has released an remastered and expanded edition of singer Cassandra Wilson’s “Blue Light ‘Till Dawn.” The new CD bears a sticker that says “20th anniversary edition,” which is sort of a fudge, mathwise—the CD originally came out in November, 1993. Yet that doesn’t discount the fact that, like Nas’s album, Wilson’s was a game-changer for artists, listeners and music labels. (Wilson’s U.S. tour, on which she’ll perform “Blue Light” material, begins May 3.)
There are attitudes and aesthetics that might link Wilson’s and Nas’s 1990s achievements. There’s also blood.
Nas’s dad, Olu Dara, a musician I’ve written about several times, played brilliant and concise cornet on Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail,” on Wilson’s “Blue Light.” He’s from Natchez, Miss., not too far from Jackson, where Wilson was born and raised.
Dara lent Wilson more than just his distinctive tone: As she tol told me in an interview for Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal piece, Wilson gained from him this lesson—”to honor and not hide where I’m from.”
Part of Wilson’s awakening involved picking up the guitar she’d hidden in fear that “the ‘jazz police’ would come looking for it.” That one was a Martin acoustic. I like the photo above, because it shows her playing the red Fender she played recently for new project, Black Sun. Continue reading “When Cassandra Wilson Turned on Her Blue Light”