Joanie Madden
This New York native is one of the great personalities in music, and has played with just about everybody in the East Coast Irish music scene. In 1984, Joanie became the only American ever to win the Senior All-Ireland Championship on the whistle. In 1983, she helped found Cherish The Ladies, hailed by The Los Angeles Times as "a superb female ensemble...melodically elegant, rhythmically irresistible," Cherish the Ladies is one of today's most popular and widely travelled bands.

Joanie wites...

Hello from New York! Now that March Mayhem is finally over, I'm finally getting around to catching up on e-mails and phone calls that are long overdue.

When Fiona's right hand woman Margaret Kennedy called and asked me to write a few lines I was thrilled. She gave me a couple of weeks to do it with a deadline of April 1st -- well, it's now 3:30 AM on the night of April Fools day and I'm just getting around to it!!!!

While trying to respond to over 400 e-mails that have accumulated during the March tour, I can't believe the number of e-mails we received from fans of The Thistle & Shamrock who recently heard our live show featured during St. Paddy's week. I've responded to dozens of people all across America, from Alaska to Alabama and practically every state in between!

Many people who wrote have been fans of Cherish the Ladies for years but I was amazed at the number of people who had never heard of us until that program aired. That's one of the great beauties of what Fiona Ritchie has done for Celtic music and for so many Celtic artists around the globe. She started her radio show with a dream and it now airs on hundreds of stations. She has single-handedly brought our music to so many corners of America and has provided an invaluable service to the Celtic music community by bringing an awareness to so many artists who would remain unknown without her help.

During our travels, which usually consist of 150 shows a year and a lot of driving, we're constantly scanning the FM dial hoping to find the NPR station and her show. We've caught the program all across the States and it's always a pleasure to listen to it and I congratulate Fiona on her success of many years of being the best Celtic radio show on the planet!

If you told me 20 years ago that I'd be running around the globe performing in majestic performing arts centers and guesting with dozens of symphony orchestras I would have called you nuts! I was born the second oldest of seven children in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx into a very Irish community.

My parents both emigrated from Ireland in the late 1950's to try and make a better life for themselves in America. My mother is from Miltown Malbay, County Clare and my dad is from Portumna in East Galway. It was very important to my parents that all of their children be involved in Irish culture and sports and they actively encouraged us to do it all. My father is a great accordion player and he was always playing music in the house.

In my neighborhood, you were either Italian or Irish. The sounds of Italian being spoken and the smells of Italian cooking was always in the air and so was the sound of hundreds of kids in my school learning Irish music and dance and the screams of Irish football being played every day in the local park.

In my grammar school, there were dozens of All-Ireland champions in my class before I even began to learn to play the whistle. I actually went to kindergarten and all through grammar school with my great friend, fiddler Eileen Ivers.

My earliest childhood memory is of Irish music sessions in our house. I was always mad for music and my mother could never get me to go to bed whenever there was any kind of hooley taking place at the many house parties that my parents hosted. New York was and still is one of the best hotbeds for traditional Irish music in the world and I was so fortunate to get to hear and play with so many of the greats.

My teacher Jack Coen lived five houses away from us and he was just the best teacher you could ever ask for. I also learned so much from Mike Preston, a great flute player from the Tulla Ceili band and also Mike Rafferty from Ballinakill in East Galway.

There were always musicians and bands immigrating or passing through New York and I'd always go out of my way to track them down. Legends from Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran, Andy McGann, Larry Reynolds, Sean McGlynn, Billy McCommiskey, Felix Dolan, Martin Mulhaire, Paddy O'Brien and Joe Burke have all called New York home at one time or another.

When I announced to my parents that I was quitting college to play music for a living all hell broke loose. My parents were furious and felt that I was throwing my future away. My mother declared that I was great with numbers and that I should become an accountant!

At the time Cherish the Ladies was just an occasional event but I knew in my heart and soul that I'd never be happy doing anything but music. Boy am I glad I held on to my dream. Cherish the Ladies will be celebrating 15 years of touring in May and we were just chosen as best musical group of the year at the BBC Folk Awards in England.

I'm just thrilled to be able to tour around the world representing Irish music from America and to be given the opportunity to perform. It makes my day when people can come to one of our shows and we can make them forget about all their problems with music, singing and dancing for a couple of hours and let them have a good hearty laugh!

I look forward to meeting all of you for a tune and a laugh at some stage or another in our travels!!! TIME FOR BED -- Goodnight!!