Saturday, 28 November 2009

Cherish the Ladies

Like jazz and rock, Celtic music has traditionally been a male-dominated scene. But in 1985, folklorist/musician Mick Moloney had the idea of sponsoring a concert series featuring the finest female Irish traditional musicians.

The result was Cherish the Ladies, a band that has become one of the most celebrated Celtic ensembles in the world. They will perform their Christmas program as part of the Kutztown University Performing Artists Series, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Schaeffer Auditorium.

Cherish the Ladies will perform a Christmas program Wednesday as part of the Kutztown University Performing Artists Series.
The leader, Joanie Madden, born in the Bronx, N.Y., to Irish parents, was the first American to win the senior all-Ireland championship on the tin whistle in 1984. She has played flute and tin whistle with the group since its inception.

The rest of the current lineup includes founding member and fellow New Yorker Mary Coogan on guitar; All-Ireland champion Mirella Murray from County Galway, Ireland, on accordion; Roisin Dillon from Belfast, Northern Ireland, on fiddle; Kathleen Boyle of Glasgow, Scotland, on piano; and Michelle Burke from County Cork, Ireland, on lead vocals.

Former members include fiddler Eileen Ivers and singer Cathie Ryan, along with many others who have gone on to solo careers.

For Wednesday's concert, the group is also bringing three step dancers, including Jonathan Srour, from York, Pa., which has a vibrant Irish music scene. The other two are Cara Butler (the sister of Jean Butler of "Riverdance") and Dan Stacey.

"Everyone is a phenomenal musician," Madden said of her bandmates in a recent telephone interview. "We do music, singing, dancing, sing-alongs - all aspects of the culture - and we have a lot of fun while we are doing it."

Madden said that as a young girl growing up in the Bronx, "I never thought I'd make a living as an Irish musician."

But she, like the other band members, was inspired by her father, an accordionist who had a successful Irish band in New York.

"All of us have musical backgrounds; all our dads played and danced," she said. "We're all from dads who were a driving force. Music was the greatest gift they could give us."

Of the seven Madden children, only Joanie and one brother, a drummer, took up music.

She started playing the tin whistle at age 13, studying with Jack Coen, a Galway-born Irish whistle player who lived nearby. She began performing with her father's band and jamming with Eileen Ivers, who went to school with her. In five years, she had honed her skills so well that she took second place in the All-Ireland competition; she won at age 25, the age her father was when he won for accordion.

In 1985, Cherish the Ladies released an album, "Fathers and Daughters," featuring each woman in a duet with her father.

The group has recorded many CDs, the most recent of which, a second Christmas album called "A Star in the East," was released Nov. 19.

"We started doing Christmas shows eight or nine years ago," Madden said. "They were extremely successful. It seems that once the Thanksgiving turkey is carved up, people are ready for Christmas. The concert is a big family day - we get parents and grandparents and grandchildren. It's our favorite time to tour."

The program will consist of songs everyone likes to sing, with a Celtic twist, as well as traditional Irish carols like "The Holly and the Berry" and "The Wexford Carol," and jigs and reels.

The band's future plans include a trip to China and a 25th-anniversary CD.

"It's great to be part of a culture that's very into its music and culture," Madden said. "It's important to pass down that culture."

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