Cherish the Ladies wraps up Christmas tour in Frederick
FREDERICK, Md. — After performing across the country this month on their Celtic Christmas tour, Irish group Cherish the Ladies will wrap up the season with a show at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, at Weinberg Center for the Arts.
“That is our last gig on our Christmas tour, so it’s obviously gonna be the best one,” laughingly said Joanie Madden, Cherish the Ladies founder, concert flutist, tin whistler and harmony singe.
Madden and the rest of her group were on their tour bus headed through New England on Thursday, Dec. 6, when Madden took time for a telephone interview.
“We haven’t done a Christmas show in a number of years (in Frederick) so we’re looking forward to it. We’ve been having a great time and so far. The response has been just incredible. And it’s for sure one of my favorite times for touring, it’s the only time of the year that you see Mom and Dad and the grandmothers and the kids all out. We totally cater the show to a family audience,” Madden said.
Come Jan. 4, Cherish the Ladies will turn 34 years old, and they will launch a celebratory tour, of which Sunday’s audience will be treated to a preview.
“(We released) our 17th album, which is called ‘Heart of the Home,’ so we’ll be doing a few selections from that, as well as pulling material from our three previous Christmas albums that we made,” Madden said.
Irish vocalist Don Stiffe joins Cherish the Ladies on their tour.
“He’s definitely one of Ireland’s preeminent singers. He’s just one of the best ballad singers you’ll ever hear. And people keep telling me he sounds like Burl Ives, that’s the only way I can explain him,” she said.
In its 34 years, members of Cherish the Ladies have recorded 17 albums and received international acclaim. Madden, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., said her experiences have exceeded anything she can imagine.
“We kind of got started with a flute concert series put together by a great friend of ours, Dr. Mick Maloney, who was just amazed with the level of virtuosity among young women musicians,” Madden said. “And he thought it would be great to do a concert series in New York, and just never in our wildest dreams did we think that here we would be at it 34 years later, and now we’ve performed all over the world and played thousands and thousands and thousands of concerts.”
In addition to her work with Cherish the Ladies, Madden is a successful solo artist, selling more than 500,000 solo albums and performing on more than 200 recordings, including three Grammy-winning albums with the likes of Pete Seeger, Sinead O’Connor and the Boston Pops.
In 2011, she received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and in 2016, Irish America Magazine named her as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Irish Women in the world. Madden takes her success in stride, and has no regrets of keeping her group together, sometimes at the expense of her solo career.
“I’ve been very, very lucky. I never thought I’d have a million in sales as a whistle blower, trust me. But I guess I still get to have a very successful solo career, but, you know, years ago, I missed out on an awful lot of opportunities because of being in a band. We all committed to the band, and if you didn’t have that commitment, there would be no band. So, I mean, I’ve lost out on an awful lot of things, but I’ve gained certainly a lot more than I ever have lost,” she said.
Madden has nothing but praise for her bandmates, who include original Cherish the Ladies cohort Mary Coogan, Mirella Murray, Nollaig Casey, and Kathleen Boyle.
“You know, the sense of camaraderie we have on the road and just traveling with great people, that makes it fun, and you know, you’re not on your own, you’re traveling in a posse,” she said. “Each one of the girls in the group, they’re all fantastic musicians and brilliant step dancers and it’s important to be very talented, but it’s also very important to get along with people, and even more important when you’re in a group. And you surround yourselves with people, who do you wanna be in the foxhole with?, and I’ve been very fortunate because every one of the girls I have in the foxhole, they’re just brilliant people.”
Madden credits the success of her band with the women’s rapport.
“I think the key to our longevity has been the fact that people just love (our) fun-filled atmosphere, we love having people singing and we just have a lot of fun with the audience. I think that’s been the key to our success and why people keep coming back and back and back again,” she said.
Madden, like each of her bandmates, came from a strong line of Irish musicians. Her father, Joe, was an All-Ireland Champion accordion player, who recognized his daughter’s talent when she was young, but had an unconventional approach to helping her hone her talent.
“He sent me for fiddle lessons. Never asked me what I wanted to play, just sent me for fiddle lessons, and I hated it,” she recalled, noting that a stint a piano playing followed with similar results.
It wasn’t until a friend came over to the house one day and when Madden saw the whistle.
“And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love that.’ And I said to my father, ‘Oh my God, Dad, I want to play that.’ And he said, “Well you can go to hell,’ more or less. he wasn’t wasting any more money on lessons,” she said.
But young Madden was so passionate about the tin whistle that she came up with a plan to take lessons. “Thank God the instrument was $5 and the lesson was $3, and I had money from babysitting that I actually bought my first whistle and paid for my first lesson. The nuns used to scold me for playing on my pencil at school. I just wouldn’t stop,” she said.
With shows booked for Cherish the Ladies in Scotland, Ireland and across the U.S. in 2019, including a stop at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown on Saturday, March 30, Madden has no plans to slow down the pace of a world-traveling musician.
“We’re just gonna keep going until the phone quits ringing, but we’re booking for 2022 now, so I don’t think we’re going anywhere. Not for a while,” she said.
Top photo: Celtic group Cherish the Ladies, led by Joanie Madden, front, left, will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, at Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts. (Submitted photo)