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The Irish Tenors


The Irish Tenors Biography (Courtesy of the Artist’s site, 2005)

Anthony Kearns _John McDermott_Finbar Wright
Since they first joined voices in 1998, The Irish Tenors have made countless traditional treasures breathe with new life. Moreover, they’ve proven themselves gifted interpreters of a wide range of material, with such songs as My Heart Will Go On; (made famous by Celine Dion), Fairytale Of New York (previously recorded by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues) and even Jimmy Kennedy’s South Of The Border (Down Mexico Way). These songs live comfortably in their repertoire alongside Danny Boy, My Wild Irish Rose and Fields Of Athenry. In September, 2005 Razor & Tie will release their latest album, Sacred, A Spiritual Journey, featuring a wide range of spiritual material and inspirational songs.
They are surely versatile, but for many, Anthony Kearns, John McDermott and Finbar Wright are synonymous with Irish music. There is an aching bittersweet quality to much of Ireland’s musical heritage, a melodic loveliness and emotional intensity that brings a tingle to the spine and a tear to the eye. The dazzling technique and depth of feeling that defines this musical genre, amplified to the third power, is the hallmark of The Irish Tenors.
The magic they’ve captured on The Irish Tenors (1999), Home For Christmas (1999), Live In Belfast (2000) and Ellis Island (2001), and the Razor & Tie releases We Three Kings (2003) and Heritage (2004), has resulted in million of albums sold. Not content to rest on these laurels, however, The Irish Tenors tour constantly, thrilling old fans and winning new ones all around the globe. In the United States, they are one of the most successful Irish touring acts ever, second only to U2.
Few vocalists are capable of the bright, ringing tone and high-wire – not to mention high-C – performance skills that denote a tenor. In 1998, three such artists were called upon to sing together, backed by a 60-piece orchestra, at the Royal Dublin Society. The three were Anthony Kearns, John McDermott and Ronan Tynan. (In an interesting twist, future Irish Tenor Finbar Wright was also approached but was unable to participate due to previous professional obligations.)
Not long afterward, a recording of this landmark concert was broadcast in the U.S. on PBS. The response was electric. In March of 1999 the group mounted their first stateside tour, drawing 15,000 rapturous fans to Madison Square Garden during their New York City stop and selling out other major venues along the journey west. The enduring nature of their appeal was made clear when The Irish Tenors and Home For Christmas each spent more than two years in the upper reaches of Billboard’s World Music and Classical charts.
In February of 2000, John McDermott chose to leave the group following the death of his mother. Finbar Wright then stepped into the lineup. The newly reconstituted Irish Tenors went on to record Live From Belfast, on which they were ably supported by the 67-member Warsaw Symphonia – with surprise guest John McDermott. This was succeeded in 2001 by Ellis Island, a concept album based on the history of immigration in America that featured moving narration from actor Martin Sheen.
By the fall of 2004, with We Three Kings and Heritage also under their belts, The Irish Tenors were nearing household-name status, a designation cemented by appearances on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Live With Regis And Kelly,” “20/20” and “A&E Breakfast With The Arts,” among other popular television programs. In October of 2004, it was announced that John McDermott would re-join The Irish Tenors, replacing Ronan Tynan, who had departed to focus on his solo career.
_ The Irish Tenors’ roster has boasted one constant: Anthony Kearns. His invitation to join the trio may have been based largely on his illustrious halftime performance at the culmination of the 1996 All-Ireland Hurling Championship and subsequent appearance at the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) finals, but he was singing publicly in his hometown of Kiltealy since the age of ten. These “tops of the town” shows gave way to years of high-level vocal competition and intensive training at FCJ (Faithful Companions of Jesus) Secondary School in Bunclody, an institution renowned for its music program.
While working in the hospitality industry in Wicklow, Kearns became involved in both the Wicklow Music Society and the local “singing pubs” competitions. He was also a much sought-after singer at weddings and other special events. His standing grew alongside his contest victories, achieved by assaying everything from Sean Nos (traditional Irish singing) to pop, rock and country hits. In 1995 and 1996, Kearns won the prestigious Dermot Troy Trophy for Oratorio, in 1995, he won the Best Male Singer at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera and he reached the top at the ESB Veronica Dunne International Singing Comeptition in 1999. He was next seen competing on Ireland’s “Late Late Show,” which brought him to the attention of vocal coach Veronica Dunne, who also trained Finbar Wright. Repeated triumphs at the Dublin Feis Ceoil, Europe’s longest-running classical music festival, and elsewhere led to a national reputation and those coveted sporting-event gigs. Since he became one third of The Irish Tenors in 1998, that reputation has become international.
_ Kearns’ colleague John McDermott made his way to The Irish Tenors, incredibly, via a circulation sales job at the Toronto Sun. He was “discovered” after belting out an impromptu rendition of Danny Boy at a company party. Executives in attendance helped fund McDermott’s first album, Danny Boy, recorded as a very private and personal 50th-anniversary tribute to his parents. Despite these humble beginnings, the album landed in the offices of EMI Music Canada, which released it in 1993. Danny Boy racked up brisk sales in North America and a #1 berth and double-platinum sales in New Zealand. The album’s achievements, coupled with McDermott’s busy touring schedule, ultimately led to his recruitment for The Irish Tenors.
McDermott has been steeped in Celtic traditions all of his life. His parents’ Irish heritage remained vivid well after the family moved from Glasgow, Scotland, where John spent his early years, to Canada. He says he was enormously influenced as both a singer and a storyteller by his father, whose love of music permeated the household. His solo albums Songs Of The Isles: Scotland and Songs Of The Isles: Ireland (both 2004) reflect his father’s tutelage. The latter includes The Last Rose Of Summer, which served as the inscription on the gravestones of McDermott’s grandparents.
_ Finbar Wright grew up on a small farm in Ballinspittle, just yards from the sea. He began his music education on piano at the age of five. Wright also studied for the priesthood, heading off to board at Cork’s Farranferris College at 11. He was ordained in 1980. At 22, he was the youngest priest in the world; his ordination required a special dispensation from the Vatican. He was even familiar to Pope John Paul II, as he had been selected to read the Gospel and sing the responsories at the Pope’s Mass at Phoenix Park, Dublin, in September 1979. The first Mass of a reigning Pontiff in Ireland, the event was attended by 1.25 million people, at that time a third of the entire population of Ireland.
Wright’s first real training in music came in the mid-‘70s, in Spain. Heavily influenced by Spanish music, in 1995 he was invited to perform in Dublin with the great Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé. Ultimately, Wright chose not to become a practicing priest and instead devoted himself to music, staging a series of recitals and small concerts. His position was assured with his nomination as Ireland’s representative to the Cardiff (now BBC) Singer of the World Competition (like Kearns, Wright had been a champion at the Dublin Feis Ceoil, winning all the major singing awards). His 1992 disc, Whatever You Believe, rose to #1 and was deemed triple platinum in Ireland. Unable to join The Irish Tenors in 1998, he finally realized this ambition in early 2000.
These endeavors have made Anthony Kearns, John McDermott and Finbar Wright three of the most celebrated vocalists in the world. Nevertheless, it is as a single force, as The Irish Tenors, that they achieve their greatest triumph, uniting their prodigious talent, their devotion to the music that lives in their hearts and above all, their gift for sharing that love with us.

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