Irish-American: music. The
term once conjured up visions of shamrocks, leprechauns and the "Stage Irish",
of the early 20th century. That Irish-American music had little to do with genuinely Irish
However, the true tradition was alive and well in the inner
cities of America from Boston and New York City to Philadelphia and Chicago. There it was
nurtured by immigrants who were more acutely aware of the need to preserve their culture
and history than their brethren still in Ireland.
Thus a new generation of Irish-American musicians grew up,
expertly trained by some of the tradition's best teachers. They were fiercely determined
to preserve their tradition while at the same time re-invigorating it with their youthful
energy and non-traditional in influences. Their names are increasingly familiar to those
attuned to the "new" Irish-American music; Seamus Egan, Liz Carroll, Joannie
Madden, Eileen Ivers and John Williams, all marvelously skilled instrumentalists.
And what of the vocalists? Among the very best is Cathie Ryan.
Joannie Madden, leader and founder of Cherish the Ladies, heard her sing at a party and
asked her to join the group. Over the next seven years with this renowned ensemble of
Irish-American women, she performed songs in Irish and English, accompanied and in the
Sean nos (unaccompanied) style. She also wrote some moving ballads about the Irish
experience in America, one of which, "The Back Door," is already an Irish
standard. (And, she was alto the band's bodran player!)
Cathie grew up in Detroit, a first generation Irish-American. Her
father was from Tipperary, her mother from Kerry. Her grandparents also emigrated to
America. Between them all they made sure Cathie took her singing and Irish heritage
seriously. Her father was much in demand as a singer at the Gaelic League. Grandmother
Ryan was a fiddler and fine singer as well. Grandfather Rice loved Irish history and
mythology and encouraged her to sing historical songs and to understand the history and
emotions behind them.
From the age of seven Cathie could be found singing in seisuns at
the Gaelic League. At seventeen, she left Detroit for college and a new career in New York
City. She performed there with Dermot Henry. She was also fortunate enough to come under
the tutelage of the legendary Irish seen nos singer Joe Heaney. It was Heaney who
impressed upon her the need to have an intimate relation with and understanding of a song
before you could sing it well. Anyone who has heard her sing heartbreaking ballads of the
tradition and those by contemporary writers will attest that she learned this lesson well.
Once she embarked on her solo career, she continued to perform
the gems of the Irish tradition and her own compositions written in the traditional
vernacular. She also began to perform songs culled from the singing of such giants of the
Irish tradition as Frank Harte and Dolores Keane. And she began to develop a repertoire
that included works by such well known contemporary writers as Dougie MacLean, Jimmy
McCartny, Gerry O'Beirne and Sean Tyrell.
Cathie now performs in a trio of like-minded Irish or
Irish-American musicians. She will be here in a benefit concert for WWUH radio on Friday,
November 6 1998 at 7:30 PM. The Wilde Auditorium with its excellent acoustics and intimate
environment will provide the perfect venue for her accusingly clear soprano. Come meet
Cathie, and experience some wonderful "Irish-American music of today."
Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 1998