If you love music that is, lush, sentimental, skilfully orchestrated, and sung with beauty and grace, then look no further. Celtic Women are bound to hit your sweet spot. While the group’s repertoire is largely based on traditional Irish music, this is no deal breaker for those who are averse to gritty Irish folk such as played by The Dubliners.
Celtic Women don’t aim for folk authenticity. Their music is celestial, polished, and more like big-budget musical theatre. Their resplendent version of “You Raise Me Up”, a song 1st recorded by Secret Garden in 2002, is the featured video below. The video is sumptuous, and the song comes off like a sublime, light-classical spiritual sung by angels.
Celtic Woman was originally intended to be a one-off performance in Dublin. In 2004, David Kavanagh, Sharon Browne, and David Downes, who was a musical director for Riverdance, signed up four singers and a fiddler, all women, for the Dublin show. The 15 September 2004 event was filmed for broadcast on PBS in the United States. By the time the show was broadcast, in March 2005, a studio record based on the show was ready. The PBS broadcast caused the LP to shoot up the world music chart.
The album, Celtic Women, kept the top spot on the Billboard World Music chart for 81 weeks – a record. Remarkably, it took the group’s second album, Celtic Woman: A Christmas Celebration (October 2006), to knock the first Celtic Women record down to number two. As one would expect, Celtic Women are immensely popular on YouTube. You Raise Me Up, has 85m views, and their most popular video, Amazing Grace, featured below, has 86m views.
Given the massive popularity of their debut album, it is not surprising that the group toured the US in 2005, visiting more than a dozen cities. Less predictably, all five original members of Celtic Women – Chloë Agnew, Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, Lisa Kelly, Órla Fallon and fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt – released solo albums on 10 January 2006 in the United States. All the records were recorded between 2000 and 2004, before Celtic Women’s US chart success.
More tours, more television specials, and more records followed. Celtic Women’s second tour, A New Journey, from 14 February 2007 to 6 October 2008, saw the group perform in 88 US cities in 2007 and more than 75 in 2008, interspersed with concerts in Europe and Japan. The A New Journey Tour was in support of Celtic Women’s third album, of that name, released in January 2007. This record soon knocked the groups previous two albums down a notch on the Billboard World Music chart, which meant that Celtic Women held the top three positions.
To date, fourteen Celtic Women records have been released, including a couple of compilations. According to Wikipedia, Celtic Woman have sold over nine million records worldwide. The group is about to embark on its 18th tour: A Christmas Symphony tour (2 December 2022 to 22 December 2022), consisting of 16 concerts across the US.
Given the often-gruelling schedule that Celtic Women have kept, it is not surprising that the group has seen line-up changes. Thus far 17 different women have appeared in Celtic Women. Of the original group, Chloë Agnew and fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt lasted the longest. Nesbitt left in 2016. Agnew quit in 2013, returned in 2020, and, on 19 August 2022, announced that she was taking a break to focus on other projects.
Celtic Women was conceived as a one-show-only event in Dublin. Instead, it has become a world renowned music and stage phenomenon. Not bad for a group that has been called “Riverdance for the voice.”
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