Cherish the Ladies
Cherish the Ladies
Traditional Irish-American folk group Cherish the Ladies took what could have been a simple gimmick and turned it into a musical dynasty. A grouping of talented female Irish musicians, the group is comprised of mostly first-generation Americans whose fathers are also accomplished Irish musicians. With band member Joanie Madden at the helm, the group is known for enthusiastic performances full of exemplary musicianship and lively dancing.
In 1983 folklorist Mick Moloney and New York’s Ethnic Folk Arts Center directors Martin Koenig and Ethel Rain came up with the idea of holding a series of concerts that would highlight the contributions made by young American women to Irish music. While it had long been a tradition for Irish men to pass their musical legacy on to their sons, Moloney noticed more and more women excelling in the music. He contacted Joanie Madden, who had just won three gold medals in an All-Ireland championship for whistle, flute, and a duet with fiddle player Kathy McGinty. Madden was not interested in the idea at first, thinking it odd to single out women in a group, but eventually became convinced it was a worthy venture. She off-handedly suggested naming the concert series after an old jig called “Cherish the Ladies.” Moloney liked it, and the name stuck.
By the time the group was assembled, there were 12 members, both musicians and dancers. Madden played flute, Eileen lvers was on fiddle, Maureen Doherty Macken played button accordion, Mary Coogan was on guitar, Siobhan Egan played fiddle, and Cathie Ryan was the group’s vocalist. All the members were first-generation Irish Americans, and all but Egan—who was from Philadelphia—hailed from New York. Accomplished and well respected performers, the group members met one day and started their tour the next. Their first performances were in New York high school auditoriums and, while all the members were timid about talking in the microphone, they were not shy about playing. Audiences couldn’t get enough of them. Moloney later told Steve Winick of Dirty Linen: “What started off as a very interesting and sort of fun idea became taken very seriously. The New York Times did a big story on it. Suddenly, they were sold-out concerts.”
After the successful concert series was over, everyone involved assumed that was the end of it. It was Moloney who stepped in and kept things going. He solicited funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to put together an album titled Cherish the Ladies. Released on Shanachie in 1985, the recording includes solos, duets, trios, and vocals in Celtic. Madden, accordionist Macken, and guitarist Coogan all stayed with the group, with a dozen women in all contributing. As BBC Radio-2 reported on its website: “Madden’s fears of being regarded as a novelty band on the basis of sex quickly proved unfounded as their instrumental virtuosity, sense of fun and traditional pedigree became further apparent on Fathers and Daughters, a selection of tracks on which each member played a duet with their father.” Winick wrote: “Cherish the Ladies have taken their raw individual skills and have smoothed, blended, and distilled them. The result is one of Irish music’s most consistently entertaining bands.”
Signing with Green Linnet in 1992, the band released The Back Door in 1992 and the Johnny Cunningham-produced Out and About in 1993. Calling The Back Doors “a strong musical statement featuring a lot of vibrant tunes and songs both serious and whimsical,” Winick added that the album “established the band as a major presence on the American Irish music scene.” By now Ivers had left to pursue a solo career and was replaced by fiddler Winifred Horan. All the while, the band toured throughout the United States, winning fans through their live performances. “On stage, Madden takes charge, chatting with the audience in her gregarious and hearty way,” wrote Winick, “powering through tunes with her shrill whistle and robust flute.… Egan and Horan set their twin fiddles ablaze, Macken adds the infectiously jaunty lift of the accordion, and Coogan’s nimble guitar accompaniment propels them onward with precise rhythm and harmonic subtlety. When their force is momentarily spent, Ryan enthralls the audience with a lively song.”
At the heart of Cherish the Ladies was a familiarity between the women in the band and the music they played. The typical band member had been hearing and playing music all their life. As Macken told Dirty Linen: “There was always music around in the house….
Members include Aoife Clancy (group member, 1995-2000), vocals; Deirdre Connolly (joined group, 2000), vocals; Mary Coogan, guitar; Siobhan Egan (left group, 2001), fiddle; banjo, mandolin; Winifred Horan (left group), fiddle; Eileen Ivers (left group), fiddle; Liz Knowles (joined group, 2001), fiddles; Donna Long (joined group, 1995), piano, fiddle, vocals; Maureen Doherty Macken (left group, 1995), accordion; Joanie Madden, flute, whistle; Mary Rafferty (joined group, 1995), accordion, flute, whistles, concertina; Marie Reilly, fiddle, whistles; Cathie Ryan (left group, 1995), vocals.
Formed as a performance band for a series of concerts in New York, NY, 1984; recorded debut album, Cherish the Ladies, 1985; signed with Green Linnet Records, 1992; released Out and About, 1993; signed with RCA, 1998; released The Girls Won’t Leave the Boys Alone on Windam Hill, 2001.
I think even before I started to take lessons, I knew the tunes. You heard them over and over and over again.” Most of the band members’ fathers were accomplished musicians in their own right, and there was an active subculture in New York that brought them all together. Many in the band shared much in common, including friends.
With the popularity of the Broadway musical River-dance, 1995 became a turning point for Cherish the Ladies as interest in Celtic music soared. There were a few more shifts in the lineup, as Ryan, Macken, and Horan left the band for various pursuits, both professional and familial. Vocalist Aoife Clancy—daughter of a member of the noted Irish group the Clancy Brothers—joined the band, along with Donna Long on piano and fiddle and Mary Rafferty on button accordion and whistle. One more album was released on Green Linnet, New Day Dawning, and Shanachie released Cherish the Ladies’ Artists in 1995. At that point the band signed with a major record label, ready to capitalize on their growing national and international success.
In 1998 Cherish the Ladies released their RCA debut Threads of Time, following it up a year later with At Home, an album filled with 15 musical members of the their collective families. In addition, Celtic Album, a 1998 recording of a performance with the Boston Pops Symphony, earned the group a 1999 Grammy Award nomination. The Girls Won’t Leave the Boys Alone, released on Windham Hill in 2001, included all kinds of guests, much as the earlier Home Alone had. The album’s title was a variation on the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem album from the 1960s, The Boys Won’t Leave the Girls Alone; the concept was to invite high-profile male artists such as Luka Bloom, Pete Seeger, Eric Weissberg, Arlo Guthrie, and Liam O’Maonlai of Hothouse Flowers to join them. Dan Aquilante commented of the project in the New York Post: “Best known as an instrumental group, the Ladies sing magnificently.” The Boys Won’t Leave the Girls Alone opens with tender a cappella singing and ends with a medley of four full-throttle reels.
Cherish the Ladies was well established as America’s premiere Irish traditional band by the year 2002. With a career spanning close to two decades, they have performed in venues as diverse as Good Morning America, both BBC-Radio and National Public Radio, and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and took the stage during an all-star tribute to Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden in 1992.
“It’s hard keeping a band together, but I’m proud that even after 14 years, we’ve had only a few changes in the lineup…,” Madden was quoted as stating in TBA Entertainment publicity materials. “It’s no easy trick on the road. Some got married, some had children. But everybody has left on great terms and we’re still great friends,” Commenting on the group’s interpretation of traditional music, Madden added: “Our objective always, is to add to the music, to nurture it, never to take away from it.” The unique quality of the group—shaped by Madden’s many contributions—has been recognized by many. On the BBC Radio-2 website, a contributor noted that Cherish the Ladies has “remained an admirably self-contained unit, with Joanie Madden looking after the business side as well as playing her whistle and flute with grace and fervor. The Ladies are indeed to be cherished.”
Cherish The Ladies, Shanachie, 1985.
Fathers and Daughters, Shanachie, 1985.
The Back Door, Green Linnet, 1992.
Out and About, Green Linnet, 1993.
New Day Dawning, Green Linnet, 1996.
Threads of Time, RCA, 1998.
At Home, RCA, 1999.
The Girls Won’t Leave the Boys Alone, Windham Hill, 2001.
Dirty Linen, August/September 1995.
New York Post, April 17, 2001.
“Cherish the Ladies,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 2, 2002).
“Cherish the Ladies,” BBC Radio-2, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/folk/artist_database/pages/cherishtheladie.shtml (April 2, 2002).
Cherish the Ladies Official Website, http://www.cherishtheladies.com (April 2, 2002).
Additional information was provided by TBA Entertainment publicity materials.
"Cherish the Ladies." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cherish-ladies
"Cherish the Ladies." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cherish-ladies
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