By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
For nearly 30 years, Cathie Ryan has been a leading light in Irish music.
The former lead singer for Cherish the Ladies has recorded five solo albums on her own and collaborated with a galaxy of Irish and Celtic musicians. Twice she’s been named Irish Female Vocalist of the Decade by LiveIreland and honored as one of the Top 100 Irish Americans by Irish Music Magazine.
Surprisingly, the singer and songwriter isn’t from Dublin; she’s from Detroit.
A first-generation Irish-American, Ryan is the daughter of immigrants Mary Ryan from County Kerry and Timothy Ryan from County Tipperary. Though she grew up surrounded by the music of Motown in the Motor City, Ryan also was steeped in the music of her ancestral home. Her father sang tenor, her grandmother was a fiddler and singer, and Ryan regularly crossed the Atlantic Ocean to visit relatives back home.
Singing “songs of the heart” in a distinctive soprano voice, folksinger and songwriter Cathie Ryan joins the Grand Rapids Pops for a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration that opens on St. Patrick’s Day itself, March 17.
Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Fox Motor Pops concerts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 17-18, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19, at DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW.
The Cathie Ryan Band, with traditional musicians Patsy O’Brien on guitar and vocals, Patrick Mangan on fiddle, and Brian Melick on percussion, perform Ryan’s original songs such as Carrick-a-Rede plus a blend of Irish traditional music mixed with rafter-raising jigs, reels and rousing Irish step dancing with special guest dancers, West Michigan’s own Scoil Rince Ní Bhraonáin.
Ryan’s tales about her parents and their childhood in Ireland, paired with her humorous take on Irish culture, creates a true celebration of Irish-American music.
Ryan’s family’s musical legacy, coupled with the early influences while growing up as a member of The Gaelic League and Irish-American Club of Detroit, gave Ryan her start. But she faced challenges along the way.
She left Detroit to attend Fordham University in New York. In the early 1980s, she sang in a band, married a musician, became a mother and set aside her own musical career. Then she got divorced.
When her son was little, she cleaned houses during the day and returned to school at night, eventually finishing her bachelor’s degree in English literature and secondary education at the City University of New York in 1991.
But four years earlier in 1987, Ryan became the lead vocalist for Cherish the Ladies, writing songs including the title track for Cherish the Ladies’ 1992 album, The Back Door.
A 1995 appearance on a PBS-TV special, A Christmas Tradition with Tommy Makem, starring the Irish folk musician and storyteller, gave Ryan the break she needed to launch a solo career.
Cathie Ryan has been in the vanguard of Irish music ever since. Her fifth CD, Through Wind and Rain, is bringing her music to a much wider audience.
Closer to home, in 2012, Ryan was one of the first people inducted into the Michigan Irish Hall of Fame alongside another well-known descendant of Ireland, Henry Ford.
Tickets start at $18 and are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9 am-5 pm at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.)
Tickets are available at the DeVos Place box office, weekdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets also may be purchased online at GRSymphony.org.