"Legend" is not a title John McDermott would readily embrace, but his accomplishments have become legendary in recording industry lore. He calls Toronto home, but he has also found a home as an international recording star and household name - known as much for his successful musical career as for his commitment to veterans' causes. He is a long way from the man for whom singing was a hobby less than ten years ago. John was discovered quite by chance, when working as the veteran circulation manager for the Toronto Sun, he belted out an impromptu rendition of "Danny Boy" at a company party.
"I grew up singing, but I thought everybody grew up singing. My dad and mom introduced us to music early on, and all of the McDermott kids could unleash a verse or two of "Scotland the Brave" or "Green Isle of Erin" on command. My song was "Danny Boy," and I sang it with pride, because even as a kid I knew what a powerful and emotive
song it was."
Executives in attendance at the party helped fund John's first album, Danny Boy, which was originally recorded as a very private and personal 50th anniversary tribute for his parents. Its quality could not be ignored and it eventually found its way into the hands of EMI Music Canada. Danny Boy subsequently garnered strong sales for a debut release in Canada and the U.S.; it even reached number one on New Zealand's album charts, and was certified double platinum in that country. This success, in addition to a fast growing North American fan base, won through a tireless touring schedule, led to his participation in the PBS phenomenon The Irish Tenors. John's presence helped generate a US gold record, 3 US tours and a high-profile media schedule including appearances on Good Morning America and The Today Show.
The outcome of that fateful performance has catapulted him into a musical career that, not even ten years later, includes nine full-length albums, three platinum records, five Juno nominations and a solid international touring schedule. In November 2001 John taped "John McDermott - A Time to Remember" at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. This, his first solo television special, will be broadcast on PBS affiliates across the United States in the spring of 2002, and will be available on DVD and VHS in June 2002. The accompanying CD and cassette will be released on February 26, 2002.
The ninth of twelve children from a traditional Glasgow Irish family who emigrated from Scotland to Canada in the 1960s, John's musical roots are equal parts Scottish and Irish. His songs showcase his innate understanding and facility with traditional folk melodies as well as more contemporary stylings. He is a new generation of musical storyteller in the great Celtic tradition - somehow combining the majesty of legendary Irish tenor John McCormack, the lyrical sense of Robbie Burns, the charm of Dean Martin, and the everyman quality of Pete Seeger. Underneath it all is the driving desire to
chronicle the many facets of universal
To the generation that remembers the wars, John's music conjures up a vivid emotional landscape, evocative of love, loss and history. For the rest of us, his simple but richly textured arrangements allow him to weave narratives - folk tales - which conjure up an exact moment and place (whether real or imaginary). This subtlety for the texture and meaning of the lyrics has resulted in John's recordings becoming definitive renditions of folk classics like "Danny Boy," friend Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda," and
Phil Coulter's "The Old Man."
The themes of war and remembrance are common in traditional folk music - and the fact that the songs in his carefully selected repertoire are stories that must hold meaning for him is apparent. Most recently, on his latest recording "A Day to Myself" (EMI/Canada), he includes liner notes to explain why each song has particular significance and was chosen to be included in the album - like the poignant story behind "Love Remembers When" - inspired by a friend's aunt coping with Alzheimer's disease. Or his powerful interpretation of "Streets of London" to be a universal message about getting on with the business of life no matter how difficult
that may seem.
John's success has provided him with the ability to express his commitment to veterans' causes, which have always occupied a central place in his life and been an important
theme in his music.
The 1999 album "Remembrance" and successive concert tours based on that material have raised his profile further in North America, as he revived songs like "We'll Meet Again" and "I'll be Seeing You" that were popularized during wartime. Last fall he even earmarked the royalties from his recording of Vietnam veteran Tim Murphy's 'The Wall' to support homeless veterans.
"The Veterans population has historically been ignored outside of one day a year, but I hope that recent events will change that," John explains. "So much of the music I sing really speaks to the veterans' experience and I feel a great deal of respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line for the
sake of their country."
In recognition of this commitment to veterans' causes John was given one of the United States' highest accolades - the Congressional Medal of Honour Society's "Bob Hope Award," and has dined at The White House as a guest of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Despite the demands of his increasingly busy career as an entertainer, John continues to devote much of his time to these causes. Especially important to John are the legions of homeless veterans in big cities and small towns from coast to coast. His concern is borne out through innovative projects such as: McDermott House, a transitional housing co-operative for veterans in Washington, D.C., and more recently, the Hope McDermott Day Program Centre in Boston, MA. These are just the first of what promise to be many centres across the country helping veterans make the transition from homelessness
On tour, John's easygoing manner and wealth of anecdotes make him a favourite with audiences who are looking to find meaning and a sense of history in the contemporary world - now more than ever. Fans find him approachable enough to invite down to the local pub for a pint after the show!
"I've got a catalogue of great memories from my years of touring, meeting the people who spend their hard-earned cash to see me perform. I regard them as friends and family, and I try to create that atmosphere wherever I perform. I especially enjoy interacting with young people and seniors, because it's great to get living first-hand proof that music can transcend all boundaries, even age."
John's clear, expressive voice and rich tenor is deeply affecting, particularly when evoking the complex emotions in wartime songs. However, it is not just the theme of war and remembrance, but the broader, universal motif of remembering those no longer present, and taking a moment to appreciate how those who are with us have, in some way, touched our lives that gives John's music a unique appeal. As a result, he is an artist whose sense of respect for tradition and understanding of the sentiment behind the music
Timeless Memories: by John McDermott. 19 classics and fan favorites by one of the world's much loved and acclaimed Irish Tenors. John McDermott's incredible solo career includes: 1 million albums sold in North America, a #1 album in New Zealand, and the recipient of one of the Congressional Medal of Honour Society's "Bob Hope Award."
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