The Roots Of Irish Tradition

Cathie Ryan Prepares for Dayton

By Khalid Moss

There is an abundance of awe-inspiring, Irish women singers/songwriters. Lucia Evans, who lives in Galway, Northern Ireland, ran away with the gold on the 2006 season of the talent show You’re A Star. Siobhan Fahey, born in Dublin, was a founding member of the Brit girl group Bananarama, and later performed with the award-winning outfit, Shakespeare’s Sister.

However, one of the most distinctive female voices in Irish Celtic music was, oddly enough, born in Detroit — which proves you don’t have to escape to the Emerald Isle to hear the voice of an angel. Motown’s most famous Celtic singer/songwriter, Cathie Ryan and her band will be joined by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert titled Celtic Vistas with Cathie Ryan on March 16 and 17 at 8p.m. inside the Meade Theatre of the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center. The concert takes place in the midst of the nation’s St. Patrick Day celebrations.

During an informal interview, the former lead singer for Cherish the Ladies mused about the roots of her incredible gift.

“My roots in Irish music were deeply planted by my parents,” she said. “They came from Ireland to Michigan in the ‘50s and brought their music and their love of that music with them. It kept them tethered to home and the kids tethered to them. Music was, and is, very important in the Irish Diaspora. The songs, the tunes, the Irish step-dancing seem to be the glue that brings the Irish together wherever they are. It’s a big focus in every community. It brings us together socially and bonds us culturally. It is a life force.”

In the Ryan household, making music was a happy birthright.

“My dad was a singer as was his mother before him,” she recalled. “They both inspired me for different reasons. My father was a gorgeous singer. He was a tenor. He was so good. He believed in the integrity of a song. He taught me to never get in the way of a song. And my grandmother just delighted in music. She loved playing the fiddle and singing. Whenever she played or sang, she lit up. I never saw a photo of her as a child but when she sang, she became a girl again. So I always knew what she was like as a child. Music transformed her. I wanted to feel that magic, and I do whenever I sing. I carry her with me through the music.”

Ryan first gained national recognition as the lead singer for Cherish the Ladies. She said the group came together almost by accident.

“Mick Moloney noticed all the women and girls who were playing Irish music in America and decided to put a concert tour together to feature them,” she said. “The Ethnic Folk Arts Center in NYC got involved and secured grants and funding. So they whittled down the size of the group to a touring ensemble. Joanie Madden and Eileen Ivers asked me to join at that point.”

Ryan has been described as creating a deep connection with her audiences through “heartfelt storytelling and the spirit in her songs.” During her captivating performances, she forms a magical bond with her fans.

“I feel it’s a privilege to make a living at music,” she insisted. “I love to sing. I feel very blessed to sing and make music with a great band, and we get to share it with a room full of people. It’s an even exchange, we give and the audience gives. It is shared … We come into the world with a love of music and dance and story. You can see it in little kids. I don’t think we ever lose that …

“Irish music is about people and how they feel about things. It is full of life and heart and spirit. The melodies are beautiful, haunting, and the tunes are driving and robust … and the sad songs are born of our deepest longings. If our hearts are open we can’t help but respond to them … We have fun up there. Hopefully the audience does too!”

Cathie Ryan’s band includes Patsy O’Brien on guitar, Matt Mancuso on fiddle, Brian Melick on percussion and Dayton’s own Patrick Reynolds will conduct the symphony orchestra. They will be joined by the Richens/Timm Academy of Irish Dance dancers.

“Jeff Tyzic [who] is principal Pops conductor of the Rochester, Vancouver and New Jersey symphonies, charts our music. He is a gifted conductor and arranger. I love that he honors what the band and I have created within the arrangements and then expands them on the instruments of the symphony. He leaves the Irish roots intact and colors and shapes the music for the philharmonic. I can’t wait to perform with the Dayton Philharmonic, with maestro Patrick Reynolds conducting. An Irishman! It will be a great night.”

Ryan is a breath of fresh air whose “honey-pure soprano is equally at home on probing original ballads about a woman’s place in the modern world.” She is empowered the way women have never been before, and is secure about her place in the sun.

“I do not fit neatly in any box,” she said. “…There are those who think I’m not Irish because I was not born in Ireland and sing American songs too, and not American because I sing Irish music … I feel very blessed that everything that came before me has put me in the right place musically.”

Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents Celtic Vistas with Cathie Ryan on Friday, March 16 and 17 at 8p.m in the Schuster Center at Second and Main Streets. Single ticket prices range from $23 to $76.  For tickets or more information, call (888) 228-3630 or visit

Contact DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at

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