Joanie Madden &
Cherish the Ladies:
riding the Celtic wave

An interview by Kaitlin Hahn,
31 August 2005

It is not very often that an all-girl, traditional Irish music band from the States makes it to the top, but that's exactly what Cherish the Ladies has done. Perhaps this is due to the persistence of band co-founder and flute/whistle player Joanie Madden, who has been playing the music for her whole life.

"Both of my parents came from Ireland," she said. "My mother was from County Clare and my father came from East Galway." Luckily, her father brought his skill of playing the accordion with him and played tunes around the house when Joanie was young. "I grew up listening to Dad," she remembered. "Now, I try to be true to the music -- especially when he's around." To her, and her father, true Irish music is music that has been passed down, or as she puts it, "it's the old stuff." This is exactly what she portrays in her shows with Cherish the Ladies.

"The old stuff" hasn't always been performed in the United States, though. "The music wasn't that popular when I was young, but now it has become very popular," she said. "Riverdance and Lord of the Dance helped increase the awareness of it and I just rode the Celtic wave. A lot of us did." Joanie said it will keep changing, too. "I've seen it at its lows and its highs. It is popular today, but I'll probably see it calm down again in my lifetime."

Thankfully, it's not calming down now, though. There is a high interest in Celtic music today and many new musicians are learning from recordings. "I think it's great," she said. "There are so many good recordings out there now." She does have some advice for people who are learning, though: "Listen to the best players." For example, she said, Matt Molloy for flute, Mary Bergen for whistle and Martin Hayes for fiddle. And for her, the best recordings are the old ones. Hopefully, she, too, will be adding another solo album to the market for all the learners out there. Joanie laughed and said, "It's long overdue. I hope to put out another album within the next year, but right now my focus is on Cherish the Ladies."

The band is doing quite well. The group has a new album called Women of the House that is expected to be out this month. "This is my favorite album so far. I really think it's our best, yet," said Joanie. In fact, she is really pleased with how things are going for the band altogether. When asked what the highlight of her career has been, she responded, "That's a tough one, because there are so many." She's glad that the band has come as far as it has and she's happy with where they are today. "Everything I've planned for the band, so far, has happened. We've been able to tour and share our music in so many places. It's great." She also explained that getting from one gig to another is the hardest part of touring with the band, but said, "At the end of the day it's all worth it. When you get to meet the people and you see the smiles in the audience, you know you've done a good job."

When she's not touring, Joanie still keeps busy. "I like to compose tunes and I love doing interviews," she said with a chuckle. "I also like doing things with my family and doing work around my house. I like working in the garden a lot." She has an extensive collection of music books that she continues to work on in her spare time, too. And, of course, this native of the Bronx likes going to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yanks play the Red Sox. "I love sports and I like to go see movies," she said.

While she has accomplished so much in her life, Joanie still has many goals for the future. "Cherish the Ladies just did a tour in Australia and New Zealand and we've played all over North America and Europe. I'd really like to see us tour in Asia, someday. Japan would be great," she said. She would also like to do a DVD with the band and do a symphonic recording, but her ultimate goal is what it always has been -- to continue to take Irish music to places it hasn't been.

by Kaitlin Hahn
24 September 2005