The Daily Item
When the traditional Irish-American supergroup Cherish the Ladies takes to the stage Friday night in Bucknell’s inaugural Commencement Concert at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts, Grammy-winner Joanie Madden, one of the world’s finest Irish flute players and the leader of group, will not only be performing before about a thousand adoring fans, but also some members of her own family.
Madden, you see, is third cousins with Pete Mackey, Bucknell’s vice president for communications and community relations. When Bucknell was trying to create — in a short-time frame —a new commencement concert that could become a public television special, Mackey turned to his family member for help.
“We were lucky that Joanie could find time in her schedule for this show,” Mackey said.
He wasn’t kidding — Cherish the Ladies is much in demand worldwide, and averages about 240 concerts a year.
“Life on the road is a tough old thing,” joked Madden, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Item. “But I sure love it. What an honor to play in the great concert halls around the world with some of the best musicians in the world. People I once idolized.”
Cherish the Ladies have shared the stage and studio with such legendary performers as James Taylor, Joan Baez, the Chieftains, Pete Seeger and dozens of renowned orchestras, including the Boston Pops. Madden recently toured with Don Henley and the Eagles and is a featured soloist on the final “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack.
“I guess you could say I’ve come a long way,” she laughed. “Not bad for a city girl from Yonkers, New York.”
Madden grew up not far from a thriving Irish community just outside of Manhattan.
“My father played the accordion and was quite good at it,” she recalled. “Music was a part of our lives, while growing up. We’d have these large family get-togethers and music was always in the mix.”
Family was always important as well, which is where the connection between the Mackeys and the Maddens converges.
Mackey and Madden share the same great, great grandparents. Pete Mackey’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Mackey, emigrated to America from Ireland in 1930. In 1959, Mackey then turned around and sponsored Joanie Madden’s father, Joe Madden, in his emigration to the U.S.
In 1959, U.S. law required Irish immigrants to America be sponsored by an American citizen, meaning they had to have a job and housing waiting, which Thomas Mackey provided.
“Our families have been close since then,” Mackey said. “Wherever Joanie performs, and she performs all over the world, there is a good chance that if a Mackey lives nearby, there is a Mackey in the house.”
But before the fame, she first had to convince her father that she could make a living as a musician, and earn his respect.
That wasn’t easy.
“My father said, ‘Joanie, there’s no future in Irish music,’” Madden said.
Ever determined, she nevertheless took her flute to Ireland and became the first American to win an All-Ireland championship.
Since 1985, she and Cherish the Ladies have made a name for themselves as the finest all-female Irish folk group, performing thousands of concerts, and winning numerous honors.
“Joanie’s the finest Irish flute player in the world, by the estimation of many,” Mackey said. “I’ve seen her perform in Dublin with famed Irish folk musicians who traveled across Ireland to play with her, and to an audience of nearly 800 on a snowy winter’s night at Bucknell in 2008. She’s not only a great musician, but offers great craic, as the Irish say, as an emcee. She was the first person I called for the inaugural commencement concert.”
Madden is pulling out all the stops for the Friday night show.
Along with Cherish the Ladies, Grammy-nominee Maura O’Connell from Ireland will perform as a guest vocalist. There will also be three world-champion and three national-champion Irish dancers, including some who have performed with the famed “Riverdance,” “Lord of the Dance” and The Chieftains.
All will be backed by an 11-piece string ensemble conducted by Bucknell professor of music Christopher Para.
The entire show will be filmed in high-definition by WVIA Public Media Studios for later distribution to public television stations nationwide.
“When you call on Joanie, you are connecting to the best in Irish folk performance today,” Mackey said.
Find out for yourself Friday night.
General admission tickets are $25 per person and $10 for college and K-12 students. Advance tickets can be charged through the Campus Box Office or by calling 577-1000.
Tickets are still available at several locations, including the Weis Center lobby, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the Barnes & Noble at Bucknell, University bookstore in Lewisburg weekdays and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and the CAP Center Box Office, on the ground floor of the Elaine Langone Center, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tickets also may be purchased one hour prior to the performance.