March 11, 1996 12:00 PM

>Cassandra Wilson

THE TEACHER AND THE TINKERER

Vocalist Cassandra Wilson has long been adored by jazz afficionados for her sinuous voice and brainy sensuality. Mainstream listeners discovered her in 1993, when Blue Light ’til Dawn, her addictive brew of blues, folk and Joni Mitchell-esque pop became one of the year’s surprise hits. Now the 40-year-old Wilson has released New Moon Daughter (Blue Note Records) and will start a U.S. tour in April—something she loves but also dreads, since it usually means leaving her 6-year-old son Jeris with her mother. “We have lots of conversations about it,” says Wilson, who is divorced. “It’s tough for both of us.”

How did your parents influence you?

My mom, an elementary school teacher for 40 years, is the most driven woman I know. She’s completely dedicated to her three children, obsessed with her work. I have all her ambition and most of her energy. My father affected me too. Aside from being a musician—he played bass and guitar—he was an inventor. He came up with all kinds of extraordinary schemes and designs. So the side of me that’s a tinkerer, a dreamer, comes from him.

As a Southerner from Jackson, Miss., do you ever feel lost in New York City?

I’ve gotten used to New. Yorkers. What I mean is, I’ve gotten accustomed to their dispensing with courtesies and formalities. After years of being here, my manners have been blunted. In fact whenever I go home, my mother says my social graces have flat-out disappeared. And though she revels in my success, it takes a lot to impress her, as with most Southerners. We always joke that Michael Jackson could walk down the street and people wouldn’t be impressed; they’d stop and ask him a few questions, like, “What was wrong with your face that you felt compelled to change it?” Down there, you’re just home folk. People say, “I’ve known you since you were this big, so don’t go putting on airs!” I love that.

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