The Wilmington Morning Star - October 27, 2000
John McDermott: storytelling through song
By Amy Korney
Want to go?
Who: John McDermott.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St.
From ancient Celtic bards to U2 rock songs, the world knows the people of Ireland for their music and lyrics. On Saturday, John McDermott will demonstrate that phenomena with a performance at Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St.
Mr. McDermott, known for his 1999/2000 Irish Tenors performance on PBS, began his musical career almost by accident.
His mother and father moved from Ireland to Scotland where Mr. McDermott was born. In 1965 the family immigrated to Canada. "There was always singing in the house," Mr. McDermott said. "I never thought about doing it professionally though." Singing at home and at St. Michael's Choir School in Toronto seemed second nature.
In 1990 Mr. McDermott recorded a few songs for his parents' 50th wedding anniversary.
While working as a circulation manager for the Toronto Sun, he decided to send the recording to a few record companies. No one took the bite until 1992, when EMI contacted the tenor.
"By 1993 it was doing so well I decided to quit my job," he said. He said that although his father encouraged him to pursue a career in music he still felt a little leery -- but not for long, "I knew when I stepped out on the stage I'd made the right decision."
The Irish Tenors' performance made his career skyrocket. By 1999 Mr. McDermott had released nine recordings including Danny Boy, Love is a Voyage and Remembrance, a compilation in honor of war veterans.
The single to his new album, A Day to Myself, will be released to radio stations in November of this year but it will not be available to the Canadian and American public until January 2001.
The tenor also plans to perform solo in a PBS special for broadcast before the end of this year, next year he'll embark on a veterans tour and star in a public television special.
Mr. McDermott usually records songs by his favorite writers or through audience suggestions.
He has not released any of his own compositions. However, he said, "I've written songs with artists and friends and they're sitting on a shelf and one day I'll do something with them."
Just before a concert, he said he sometimes gets rid of a whole planned lineup to perform songs that fit his mood at the time. "I drive my band crazy," Mr. McDermott said.
His other stage habit is telling the stories behind the songs. Irish folk songs, he says, are better understood if the listener comprehends when and why the words were written.
When Mr. McDermott isn't roving the world singing, he's working with charities, most of which involve supporting military veterans.
The McDermott House in Washington, D.C., a housing facility designed to help homeless veterans achieve self-sufficiency, was opened in 1999 in Mr. McDermott's honor.
It will serve as a prototype for McDermott Houses in other parts of the country.
He said he enjoys watching the elderly men and women as they listen to his songs and dwell on their memories. "We're the only 'civilized' country, and I put 'civilized' in quotations, that don't use their elders," he said.