Nominated as one of Irish Voice’s Most Influential Women of 2010, her debut album, Black Irish, is a collection of Irish songs she grew up listening to as a child. But don’t expect any jigs on this CD. She’s swinging it, baby!
Her version of 'Danny Boy' was featured in a 2013 BBC documentary film for the song's 100th anniversary called "Danny Boy: The Ballad That Bewitched The World," along with Elvis Presley's and Johnny Cash's versions. Tara is also interviewed in the film along with folk singer Judy Collins, actor Gabriel Byrne, musician Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains, and film maker Jim Sheridan.
“I think Tara O’Grady has a fierce soul, because her glorious voice is positively dripping with it. I was totally moved by this album. Her unique jazz arrangements of Irish standards, and that VOICE, take me to places I haven’t been in a long time. This delightful album is not only fun, it’s deep!”
Dr. Christine Ranck, Co-Author, Ignite the Genius Within
“Most music builds on a genre, some music improves it… then there is the music that draws more people to it. Tara O’Grady does just this. What she does with her music would make Michelangelo weep!”
Sean Owens, Celtic Radio
“Black Irish is what happens when a formidable talent is equally comfortable in two great music traditions and says – let’s party! The champagne corks are popping as Tara O’Grady transforms Irish classics into jazz standards with the help of some fine musicians. Come into the parlour and chill!”
Martin McGinley, Editor, Derry Journal
Her voice, at times rich and deep, at others lilting and wispy, has been compared to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and even Patsy Cline, depending on the genre of the music. Her look is reminiscent of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Tara O’Grady was raised on Irish traditional music, as well as the sounds of Hank Williams, Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Peggy Lee, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Her unique style and repertory combine celtic, folk, blues, and especially jazz.
Born and raised in New York City, Tara spent every summer on her grandparents’ farm in Donegal, Ireland where she listened to her granny Nora singing in her kitchen. She eventually formed an Andrew Sisters tribute band in 1999 and was a regular headliner at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan. Her trio sometimes becomes a quartet or quintet depending on the guest musicians. She has performed at Lincoln Center, The Museum of the City of New York, The Jewish Museum, The Cupping Room, and Battery Gardens. Her trio currently performs at the Bowery Wine Company as well as private parties, weddings and corporate events across the Tri-State area. She has performed with various artists while touring in Ireland, Spain and Argentina.
IN HER OWN WORDS
How did you come up with the title of the debut CD?
“People often ask me where the name Black Irish comes from. It has a number of meanings so the origin is not 100% clear to historians, or Irish people for that matter. I was originally aware of the term because people have called me black Irish since I was a child due to my coloring – the dark, curly hair. Legend has it the dark haired Irish were descendents of Spanish sailors who arrived in Cork in the southern most tip of Ireland hundreds of years ago. Another story is that the native Irish called people black Irish who were foreign to the original Celtic tribes on the island, so Vikings from Norway would be called this term even though they were fair-haired blondes or red-heads. More recently, friends and musicians have been calling me black Irish because when I sing they say I sound like my music idols – Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. So the title of the album is a combination of all three ideas – my look, the choice of traditional Irish songs arranged in a ‘foreign’ style, and how my voice is perceived by others.”
Why did you choose to perform traditional Irish songs in a jazz/blues style?
“When I was a child, my mother sent me to Irish step dance classes. I hated them. I could not for the life of me stand straight with my arms at my sides because I wanted to flail my arms and shake my hips. The same is with Irish music. I could sing in the traditional style, but my voice wanted to go in another direction. At family parties I was always asked to perform, but when I became interested in jazz as a young adult, Irish people would ask me to perform, but order me not to give them any of that ‘jazz shite.’ So I decided to sing what they wanted to hear, but in the style that I preferred.”
How did you come up with the idea to make this CD?
“The making of the CD came out of a conversation with a fellow musician at Lincoln Center. I always had Danny Boy in my repertory because it’s a classic song in any genre. It’s just one of those songs that can cross borders and make grown men weep. Plus, I’ve heard other jazz musicians perform it. I was bragging one day to this musician that I could sing Danny Boy like Billie Holiday. The musician replied, ‘I didn’t know Billie Holiday recorded Danny Boy.’ ‘She didn’t,’ I laughed, and started to sing, and his face lit up and he said that I should record that song. I didn’t give the idea half a second before I agreed with him, and added that I could record a bunch of traditional Irish songs and call the CD Black Irish. It was just an idea created on the spot. When I chose the songs to record, I obviously couldn’t find charts for the way I heard them in my head, so I had to sing the arrangements and solos to the musicians for them to learn because whenever they tried to find one of the songs online, they could only come up with versions done by the Chieftains or the Dubliners, and those versions were not what I was hearing in my head. The funny thing is, when I performed at local gigs with different musicians who had not heard my arrangements or were not familiar with any of the songs on the CD after it was recorded, I would sing the melody so that they could get the key and the feel for the song, and they would immediately say, oh, that’s black Irish, without even knowing the name of the project I was working on. So the term is out there in the world and I’m happy to hear people using it and connecting it to my work. It just seems natural.
“While I was preparing for the recording, I read somewhere that Frank Sinatra would record everything live in the studio, meaning no separate tracks for vocals, trumpet, bass, etc. It was like a live gig. And that’s what I’m comfortable with. Sinatra also said that if there was a mistake or someone laughed in the studio, he would leave it on the recording because it was natural, like being live on stage in front of an audience. Whatever comes out comes out. My band often performs songs together live on stage for the first time without rehearsing it, and it’s an organic experience. I love it. So when we went into the studio, we actually hadn’t even rehearsed the songs! Danny Boy was pretty much the only tune we all knew well. I had an idea of what tempo I wanted and which keys to use on the other songs, but we basically went in there raw and did most songs in one take. It was actually a lot of fun. And I’m happy with how it came out.”
For more information, visit www.taraogradymusic.com