The Irish Tenors (Contemporary Musicians)
The career of the Irish Tenors has been one of the most unusual in contemporary music. Each of its original members had enjoyed successful solo careers before they were brought together for a concert that was envisioned as a special event at the Royal Dublin Society in Ireland in 1998. When the concert was broadcast on the American Public Broadcasting System (PBS) the following year, however, the group found itself in huge demand for concerts across the Atlantic. After only a few months of international prominence, the group announced that one of its founding members, John McDermott, had left the group. While the decision stirred up some controversy over allegations that McDermott was ousted because he was not a native of Ireland, the other members welcomed a new member, Finbar Wright, into the fold. Riding a wave of popularity for Celtic music, the group continued to tour and record as each member continued with individual solo projects. As Wright modestly told the Chicago Sun Times during the group's 2001 American tour, "Basically, we are three country boys from Ireland who get on and enjoy our time on the road."
Of the various members of the Irish Tenors, John McDermott was the only one not born on Irish soil. Although he traced his ancestry to Northern Ireland's County Antrim and County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, the future singer was actually born in Scotland around 1953; his family moved to Canada when McDermott was 12 years old. Although McDermott's first love was music, he began his career in newspaper publishing. As he continued to build a reputation as a live performer, mostly on the Toronto folk scene, McDermott eventually realized that he could make a living through his music and at the age of 38, became a professional musician. In 1992 a tape of Irish standards that he made in honor of his parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary served as an audition tape for EMI-Canada Records. McDermott signed a recording contract with the company and his first album, Danny Boy, was released in Canada later that year. A series of Irish-themed albums followed throughout the 1990s, and the singer also gained a reputation for philanthropic work on behalf of veterans throughout North America.
Dr. Ronan Tynan, another original member of the Irish Tenors, took an even more unusual route to a recording career. Bom around 1960 in Ireland, Tynan suffered from a congenital deformity called bilateral phocornelia, which caused his feet to turn outward. When he was a 20-year-old college student, Tynan lost both of his lower legs in a car accident. As a double amputee, he began to compete in international Paralympic games for athletes who were physically disabled. During his college athletic career, he set a total of 14 records in the long jump, shot put, javelin, and discus events. Tynan later told Billboard, "I was blessed with a family who encouraged me from an early age. They and the man above helped me stay forward-thinking. So I learned to enjoy life and live it to the fullest."
While Tynan pursued a degree in physical rehabilitation and eventually became a medical doctor, he also began to study singing in 1984 at the Cork School of Music. After winning some national vocal competitions in 1989 he began singing professionally. A series of albums on the Sony Music Ireland label followed, and Tynan hosted a television show as well. His profile was further helped when he was named Best Male Voice at the International Singing Festival in 1996. In addition to his flourishing music career, Tynan also set up his own medical practice on his farm in Kerry, Ireland.
The youngest member of the group, Anthony Kearns was born in 1971 in Kiltealy in County Wexford, Ireland. One of six children in a musical family, Kearns played the accordion and often joined his family in singing traditional Irish songs. Professional success came when Kearns was just 18 years old. Entering a national vocal competition, he was the only competitor not to have had the advantage of formal training. Nonetheless, he won the event by singing "The Impossible Dream" and the Irish favorite "Danny Boy." He soon began training with vocal coach Veronica Dunne and went on to win "Ireland's Search for a Tenor," a national vocal competition, in 1993. After that victory, Kearns put aside his various day jobsrom selling electronics to working in a hotelo pursue a full-time career in music. "You try and step outside your situation," Kearns later remarked to the Cincinnati City Beat about his path to fame. "I say, 'God, I have it nice now.' I'm traveling the world and singing. I don't consider this hard work. I feel guilty, to be quite honest. It was bound to happen. It was like winning the Lotto."
With Celtic music more popular than ever in the late 1990ss the success of the Corrs and the Titanic soundtrack demonstratedxecutives at Ireland's Point Entertainment, TV Matters, and Radius TV came up with the idea of an "Irish tenors" concert that would try to duplicate the success that the Three Tenorsuciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, and Placido Domingoad recently had with their opera releases. The companies signed McDermott, Tynan, and Kearns to a date at the Royal Dublin Society concert hall. Accompanied by a 60-piece orchestra, the three sang Irish favorites such as "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" along with other traditional pop standards. The concert was a success, but it turned into a sensation when it was broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in March of 1999 to coincide with St. Patrick's Day. The show was so popular that the network rebroadcast the concert numerous times during its pledge drives for donations.
Given the singers' easygoing chemistry on stage, many fans were surprised that they had been singing together for such a short period of time. Even more surprising, however, was McDermott's departure just months after the Irish Tenors conquered America. While the group's press release indicated that McDermott had left because he was emotionally devastated by the death of his mother, McDermott implied that he had been forced out. Published accounts suggested that the executives who assembled the group wanted to replace McDermott with a singer who was a native of Ireland. Resuming his solo career, McDermott continued to be successful on both sides of the Atlantic.
McDermott's replacement was Finbar Wright, who was born in Kinsdale, Ireland, in 1957. Like the other members of the group, Wright took an unusual path to a recording career. Although he had always loved music, Wright entered the priesthood in 1980 and began teaching at Farannferris College in Cork, Ireland. He left the priesthood in 1987, however, and subsequently married Angela Desmond in 1990. His first album, Because, was an immediate success in Ireland, where it earned a platinum award for sales. A string of albums, television shows, and awards followed. As Kearns told Maclean's after Wright agreed to join The Irish Tenors, "When I started singing, Finbar had the top-selling album in Ireland. You can't go wrong by adding someone like Finbar to the group. Success breeds success."
Indeed, Wright's addition to the group just days before it was to record a live concert for video and album release went off without a hitch. The release of Live from Belfast in 2000 was followed by Ellis Island 2001, an album that further identified the group with its Irish-American audience when it played at the famous immigration center in New York City. As Wright told the Chicago Sun Times, "We think that the music has stretched beyond the Irish community and there is a greater interest in the music. But the core audience is the Irish community, and I would hope that they are proud of what we do and the way we treat the music. I'm also surprised at how enthusiastic the audiences are here. They are very warm and appreciative. Americans are more up front with their emotions and that really helps to get your adrenaline flowing."
Home for Christmas, Master Dance, 1999.
Live in Belfast, Point, 2000.
Ellis Island, Matrix Music Marketing, 2001.
Billboard, October 20, 2001, p. 78.
Chicago Sun Times, July 13, 2001.
City Beat (Cincinnati, OH), July 5-11, 2001.
Maclean's, August 7, 2000, p. 33.
Washington Times, February 1, 2000.
WE Magazine, September/October 1999, p. 18.
Finbar Wright Official Website, http://www.finbarwright.com (December 11, 2001).
Irish Tenors Official Website, http://www.theirishtenors.com (December 11, 2001).