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Cathie Ryan

For over twenty-five years, including five solo albums, countless musical collaborations, and multiple awards, Cathie Ryan has been in the vanguard of Irish music. She is blessed with a voice of luminous clarity and a gift for unearthing gems from Irish and American song traditions, creating her own heart-stirring originals, and for showcasing writers whose work deserves wider recognition. Wrap this musical integrity into a consummate entertainer and it is no wonder The Wall Street Journal calls her music, “a revelation.”

Ryan is a captivating performer whose shows are renowned for their intimacy and power, as well as her witty banter. “There is nothing like a live show. I love the energy, the give and take, of being with an audience. And I love to have fun up there!” she says. Ryan happily shares the stage, and the show, with her award-winning band. Featuring Patsy O’Brien on guitar, Matt Mancuso on fiddle, and Brian Melick on percussion, the band weaves subtle arrangements and harmonies around Ryan’s vocals and matches her charming repartee with dazzling sets of traditional tunes.

The Cathie Ryan Band has built a loyal following by touring internationally and singing “songs of the heart” at performing arts centers, festivals, folk clubs, and with symphony orchestras. They have been featured on national and public television throughout the world. Their radio highlights include NPR’s Mountain Stage and Thistle and Shamrock, PRI’s The World, BBC in England and Northern Ireland, Radio Scotland, and RTÉ and RnaG in Ireland.

Ryan’s fifth CD, Through Wind and Rain, is bringing her music to a much wider audience, but she remains one of the most important voices in Irish music. Irish America Magazine twice named her one of the “Top 100 Irish Americans” and Chicago’s Irish American News has twice honored her as “Irish Female Vocalist of the Decade."

Ryan grew up in Detroit to Irish immigrant parents from Kerry and Tipperary. Her mother, Mary Ryan (ní Rice, Co. Kerry), loved music and kept the turntable stacked with albums by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Johnny Cash, Mario Lanza, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams and her favorite Irish singers and musicians. Ryan maintains her mother was a musician at heart and used the music of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem to stave off the longing for home – and to help lighten the chores around the house.

Ryan’s father was a singer, and Ryan maintains he was the finest tenor she ever heard (and she did once share the stage at Radio City Music Hall with Frank Patterson, and interviewed Ronan Tynan, Finbar Wright and Anthony Kearns for PBS and heard them sing live in the studio!). Tim Ryan (Co Tipperary) was instrumental in teaching his daughter how to interpret and honor a song. He carefully explained every song he taught her, taking her through why the song was made, its historical context, and into the heart of the characters within it. He taught her that the song was there before her and would be there after her and that she shouldn’t get in the way of what it had to say!

Childhood summers spent in Ireland brought her into regular contact with her grandparents. From her father’s mother, Catherine Ryan, a beautiful singer and fiddle player, Ryan learned the joy one could feel when singing. Her maternal grandfather, Patrick Rice, was an artful and mesmerizing seanachie (storyteller). He inspired Ryan to immerse herself in the folklore and mythology of Ireland. His influence can also be heard in Ryan’s songwriting.

Her family’s musical legacy coupled with the musical influences she was exposed to while growing up as a member of The Gaelic League and Irish American Club of Detroit gave Ryan a firm grounding in traditional Irish music. And added to the wealth of these Irish influences were those that came from growing up in a neighborhood in Detroit populated by Americans from the South and the West who moved north to work in the auto factories, just as her father had. From these neighbors she learned the music of Appalachia and heard the singing of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Patsy Cline. In the greater community she heard Motown. All of these influences make their way into her singing style and the way she interprets music. The lilt of the seannos mixes with a slight twang of country, while African rhythms and funk enliven her bodhrán playing on Irish jigs and reels.

Ryan moved to New York to attend college and continued to broaden her musical knowledge. From her former husband, singer songwriter Dermot Henry (Co Sligo), she gained a deeper understanding of seannos, Irish traditional singing, and song collecting. Dermot introduced her to the legendary seannos singer Joe Heaney who became a mentor to Ryan. She recorded her first record with Dermot when she was 18 years old. She has since recorded two of Dermot’s songs on her solo CDs and is quick to credit him for showing her everything she knows about stagecraft and performing.

After graduating summa cum laude in English literature and secondary education from the City University of New York, Ryan began teaching composition and literature at Lehman College in the Bronx. Once her singing career took off, she left the classroom behind but retained her love of teaching and sharing ideas with students. She is back in the “classroom” whenever she can be – both independent of and in conjunction with her concert appearances. Her workshops focus on traditional Irish singing, Irish mythology and folklore, and the crucial importance of the arts in education. She has been on the faculty of esteemed programs such as Boston College’s Gaelic Roots and The Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.  For over 14 years she led study tours to Ireland on Irish mythology with Dr. Michael Paull of the City University of New York and renowned Jungian author Sylvia Brinton Perera. She and her band have also been in the Lincoln Center Institute’s Arts in Education repertory for three seasons..

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