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Cherish the Ladies


Cherish The Ladies (Biography Courtesy of ‘Friendly’ Artist’s Site, 2005)
PLUS ARTICLE: Cherishing the Irish Tradition from afar.

When describing Cherish the Ladies – the critics say it best…“It is simply impossible to imagine an audience that wouldn’t enjoy what they do”, the Boston Globe, “An astonishing array of virtuosity”, the Washington Post, “Expands the annals of Irish music in America…the music is passionate, tender and rambunctious”, The New York Times and for the past eighteen years, Cherish the Ladies have proven themselves worthy to live up to these accolades and in doing so have become one of the most engaging ensembles in the history of Irish music.

They have grown from a one-time concert concept to an Irish traditional music sensation, literally the most successful and sought-after Irish-American group in Celtic music. Organized by folklorist/musician Mick Moloney and sponsored by the Ethnic Folk Arts Center and the National Endowment for the Arts, they began as a concert series featuring the brightest lights in Irish traditional music. Taking their name from the name of a traditional Irish jig, the group initially won recognition as the first and only all-women traditional Irish band. In a relatively short time, they soon established themselves as musicians and performers without peer and have won many thousands of listeners and fans of their music. With their unique spectacular blend of virtuosi instrumental talents, beautiful vocals, captivating arrangements and stunning step dancing, this powerhouse group combines all the facets of Irish traditional culture and puts it forth in an immensely humorous and entertaining package.

The past years have seen the group traveling all over North and South America, the United Kingdom and Europe, Australia and New Zealand performing in the finest concert halls and international festivals. They are equally at home in front of a symphony orchestra, a performing arts center, a folk festival or even the White House.

They have been named Best Musical Group of the Year by the BBC, Entertainment Group of the Year by the Irish Voice Newspaper, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall's International Group of the Year Award at the Celtic Connections Festival in Scotland and voted the Top North American Celtic act by NPR Radio’s “Thistle and Shamrock”.

They have shared the stage with such noted entertainers as James Taylor, Joan Baez, Emmy Lou Harris, The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, The Chieftains and dozens of symphony orchestras. The "Celtic Album", their collaboration with the Boston Pops Symphony led to a 1999 Grammy nomination.

The Ladies have recorded ten highly acclaimed albums. They recently signed a recording contract with Rounder Records and this past December, their most recent album “On Christmas Night” was released to rave reviews and was chosen as one of the top Christmas Albums of the Year by The New York Times, Washington Post, The Village Voice and many other nationally syndicated Newspapers.

Cherish the Ladies have appeared on CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Evening at Pops, C-Span, PBS and National Public Radio in the United States and on BBC and RTE radio and television overseas. At the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, they were chosen to represent Irish music and culture at the Official Cultural Olympiad.

The girls continue to blaze forward and continue to enchant audiences worldwide. They are releasing their second Rounder Records Release “Woman of the House” in the fall of ’05.

Cherish the Ladies accesses a roster of regional, national and world champion step dancers who join them in every performance. Their artistry has captivated audiences worldwide. See our photo gallery for some photos of them

JOANIE MADDEN the leader of the group was born and raised in New York. Her mother is from County Clare and her father is from County Galway. She received her musical training early in life by listening to her father Joe, an All-Ireland champion on the accordion, play music around the house. She began taking whistle lessons from Jack Coen, and within five years became the World Champion on both the whistle and the concert flute. In 1984, Joanie became the only American to ever win the Senior All-Ireland Championship on the whistle. She has many awards and citations to her credit including; being the youngest member ever to be inducted into the Irish-American Musicians Hall of Fame, recipient of the Wild Geese Award, voted one of the Top 100 Irish-Americans in the country as well as being named the 1997 Traditional Musician of the Year, all for her contributions to promoting and preserving Irish culture in America. She has performed on over a hundred albums running the gamut from Pete Seeger to Sinead O'Connor, including three Grammy award-winning records. Joanie has three solo albums to her credit; "A Whistle on the Wind", "Song of the Irish Whistle" (recently named the most successful whistle album in history selling over 280,000 copies) and "Song of the Irish Whistle 2".

MARY COOGAN was born in New York and also raised in a musical household. Her mother is from County Roscommon and her father is a first generation Irish-American accordion player. Mary is a self taught guitar, mandolin and banjo player. She began playing at an early age listening to various types of acoustic music and is a highly sought after accompanist. She has just finished a recording with her father Jim titled "Passing Time" featuring renditions of tunes both old and new. Her first solo recording, "Christmas" has received rave reviews from fans and critics alike. In addition to her musical talents, she also holds her masters degree in education, and is named in Whose Who Among American Teachers.

HEIDI TALBOT was born and raised in Kill, County Kildare. Her mother Rosaleen is a fine singer and pianist, the music director of the local church where Heidi sang as a young girl. She learned to play the guitar at age 12, and soon found herself singing and playing at local sessions. She later performed throughout Counties Kildare and Dublin, and was invited to come to America by the popular Cara Band of New York. Heidi received accolades from audiences throughout the tri-state area, and went on to record a highly acclaimed solo album of her own, self-titled "Heidi Talbot". Cherish the Ladies is delighted to welcome her to the stage as their lead vocalist.

MIRELLA MURRAY grew up in Claddaghduff, near Clifden, on the north west coast of Connemara. Her father John Joe, a notable sean nós dancer, comes from Inishark Island and has a deep understanding of, and love for, traditional music. Mirella learnt the piano accordion from Mary Finn, herself a great player from the musical Finn family of Ballymote, Co. Sligo. She met up with fiddler Liz Kane from Letterfrack, and they played and learned a lot of their music together going through the Fleadh Cheoil competitions. They won the All-Ireland duet in 1995, while Mirella gained the title on the piano accordion that same year. The pair performed together for years and toured in France and in North America with Comhaltas. They formed the Hydledoodles, a short-lived band which featured at the Fiddle and Accordion festival in Shetland and returned to the Folk Festival there the following year.
Later Mirella teamed up with the great fiddle player Tola Custy from Co. Clare, since the pair have played all over Ireland and Europe on various tours and festivals. After many year of being coaxed by people they went on to make an album "Three Sunsets" which has received many rave review and was voted top five albums of 2002 by The Irish Times, they were one of the nominee's as 'Best Newcomers' by the Irish Music Magazine in 2003.
Mirella has also toured Austria with the Bumblebees; performed with harper Laoise Kelly at the International Women's Day Festival in Moscow; featured in the Galway Arts Festival 2001,2002 and 2003 with Laoise and young fiddler Michelle O'Brien; toured with various line-ups in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Spain and France; and also recorded with Laoise on the Geantraí Christmas Special 2001, TG4. From September to November 2002 Mirella joined up with the late Johnny Cunningham to perform in the theatrical production, "Peter & Wendy", winner of two OBIE Awards which Johnny composed the music and lyrics for this adaptation of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan".
Mirella also has a flair for teaching, and it is a credit to her musicianship that two of her pupils have gained All-Ireland titles. She has accumulated a vast store of tunes from her travels, and musicians such as Sharon Shannon, Lunasa and the Bumblebees credit her as a source for many uncommon melodies.

ROISIN DILLON was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and has relocated to the United States. Her interest in music was mainly inherited from her father, Eamonn, who taught her the whistle at the tender age of 11. At the age of 13, Roisin placed 2nd in the All Irelands Competition on the tin whistle and was just picking up the fiddle as a primary instrument. At 15 she placed first in the Oireachtas Competition again on the tin whistle but since then she has been playing the fiddle exclusively. At 18 Roisin came to America for three months with a tour of musicians sponsered by "The International Fund for Ireland", and within a few years had decided to move permenantly to the U.S.
Since then she has had the fortune to share the stage with many great musicians and singers including Scottish born singer John Macdermott and the well known fiddler James Kelly. Her main musical influence has been the Northern style of fiddle playing from such greats as Johnny Doherty, Tommy Peoples, and Cathal Hayden.

Cherishing the Irish Tradition from Afar

We've all seen Riverdance, the phenomenally successful production with its straight-backed, high-kicking Irish dancing on a grand scale with music to match. Well, with Cherish the Ladies we get the pocket version.

A ten-strong troupe of musicians and dancers, their breezy jigs and reels and spring-heeled, inventive dance routines would appear to be straight out of an Irish ceilidh - except their accents are as American as mom's apple pie.

Irish music, song and dance are hugely popular in America, but for a long time they were dominated by men. With the exception of two of the dancers, Cherish is an all-female concern and actually came out of a one-off concert, in 1983, as part of a series organised by American folklorist Mick Moloney and designed to redress that gender imbalance.

Since that concert, Cherish has grown into a top concert draw in the United States - the group plays over 200 concerts a year, and has even appeared with the famous Boston Pops Orchestra. And although the UK as a whole is still only waking up to their appeal, they are particularly popular in Glasgow, where they are a regular main auditorium attraction at the annual Celtic Connections festival, having appeared as unknowns in support to De Dannan in the event's first year, 1994, and charmed the Jocks out of their socks.

The troupe's spokesperson, flautist, tin whistle player and onstage chatterbox Joannie Madden acknowledges the role Cherish's good fortune in being in the right place at the right time at the outset has played in the group becoming such favourites.

"Back when we started, if anyone had told me we'd still be doing this twelve, thirteen, fourteen and more years later, I would have told them they were off their heads," she says. "But back then, if you went into a record store in New York, all you would find were Clancy Brothers albums," she says. "Now you're spoiled for choice, and they're selling." To illustrate this she cites her own solo album, Song of the Irish Whistle, which she released in February 1996 and which, despite having little or no promotion, has gone on to achieve sales in excess of 120,000.

Madden, whose father was All-Ireland accordion champion in 1958 and yet was far from keen to see his daughter become a professional musician, went to school in the Bronx with Riverdance violinist Eileen Ivers and so many other musicians that as a non-player she felt left out. So, at the age of thirteen, she took up the whistle, progressing to flute soon afterwards.

She was eighteen when she took Moloney's call and found herself surrounded by a team of young American talents, including Ivers and Siobhan Egan on fiddles, Maureen Doherty Macken on button accordion, Mary Coogan on guitar, and singer Cathy Ryan.

With the exception of Coogan, these have all moved on and their replacements have moved on, too, including fiddler Winifred Horan, who went off to play with Sharon Shannon before forming Solas, and singer Aoife Clancy, daughter of the Clancy Brothers' Bobby, who - like Ryan - is now following a solo career.

Holding the band together has been tough, acknowledges Madden, who remains friends with all the former Cherish ladies and who has become resigned to personnel changes as opportunities arise for players to further themselves.

"It's easy to put a group together but it's not so easy to keep it together," she says. "I've seen a lot of people come and go, but if you can survive for a couple of years then you have a chance of proving you're serious about it - and I'm serious about it. When Winnie and Maureen left, we'd just taken the band to the stage where we could make a living at it. Some of the others wanted to cut back on working to something like three months of the year and I said, if we did that, there wouldn't be a Cherish, and we're still here."

Despite regular assumptions to the contrary, Madden is keen to reiterate that the group has no feminist agenda. Cherish the Ladies is a popular old Irish jig which The Chieftains, amongst many others, have recorded and which she gave as a name to the original 1983 concert off the top of her head - a move which, with misnomers such as 'Worship the Women' still greeting them, she has lived to regret.

"The funny thing is, though," she says, "a lot of the girls who've played in the band over the years have come from big families where there are loads of boys - I've got five brothers, and yet none of the boys has taken up music professionally. So it's the girls who are keeping up the tradition."

© 2001 Rob Adams

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