November 1, 2001
Collection of Hymns Next on Agenda
By Scott McLennan
Singer John McDermott has become the voice of veterans.
While McDermott's career took off on the wings of traditional Irish and Scottish ballads, the past few years have found him working on behalf of various veterans' groups, including the Korean War Memorial Committee of Central Massachusetts, which is based in Worcester.
McDermott will be back in the city Sunday for a show that doubles as a fund-raiser for the effort to construct a memorial to the 189 Worcester County residents killed in the Korean War. Dubbed žA Night to Remember,Ó the show features McDermott, Connie Stevens, Terry Moore and the USO Show Troupe from New York. For tickets, call (800) 343-0939, Ext. 234.
McDermott's appearance is bolstered by the recent release of žRemembrance,Ó a collection of songs that honors those who have served in the military.
McDermott said that his father, a World War II veteran, and his own work with the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Boston, influenced his desire to help veterans whenever possible. McDermott's fund-raising efforts have been seen at openings of day-program centers and transitional housing units for homeless veterans. Last month, he received the Bob Hope Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The award goes to entertainers who work closely with the armed services.
žEveryone has causes they can align themselves with, and we seem to be drawn into veterans' causes,Ó McDermott said in a recent interview.
While his comments may seem nonchalant, McDermott's pride and respect for those he helps is not in question when you listen to žRemembrance.Ó
McDermott wraps his soothing tenor around such well-known numbers as žI'll Be Seeing You,Ó žShenandoah,Ó žIn Flanders FieldÓ and žThe Wall,Ó songs that span conflicts from the U.S. Civil War to the Vietnam War.
The popularity of such songs has risen even more since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the visible burst of American patriotism that followed.
McDermott maintained that he has seen no rise in patriotism; those who have supported his career have always been patriotic.
žThe patriotic nerve has been exposed in this country. And rather than be a painful experience, it's making people feel proud,Ó he said.
žDuring a time like this, people have to be told that it's OK to laugh and cry and reflect,Ó McDermott said. žI don't want to bring people down with the show. We make it more like a gentle roller-coaster ride.Ó
McDermott's patriotism is all the more striking considering that he grew up in Canada, the son of parents who emigrated from Scotland.
McDermott was working in the circulation department of the Toronto Sun newspaper before his singing career took hold. His skills were never a secret to those who enjoyed the way McDermott entertained at gatherings of family and friends.
As his reputation grew, so did his ambition. With the backing of a businessman who had enjoyed McDermott's impromptu party performances, the singer made a compact disc called žDanny Boy.Ó
The disc became a grass-roots phenomenon fueled by a direct-marketing TV campaign. McDermott's profile further rose with the multiple airings of žThe Irish TenorsÓ concert on PBS television stations.
The Angel record label, a division of EMI and Virgin records, now backs McDermott and recognizes him as a steady seller.
žMy records are not in the Top 100 anywhere. The beauty of it, though, is I can come back to Worcester year after year and sell out the house,Ó McDermott said. žI'm supported by a silent majority. Record companies and retailers don't get that people want to hear this stuff, and they are not hearing it on the radio.Ó
McDermott is lining up a new PBS special, one with a three-fold program of songs for families, veterans and children. His next recording project will be a collection of hymns and a set of original compositions.
At 47, McDermott is making the most out of a relatively late start in the entertainment business. Though busy, McDermott pointed out that he is not calculating.
žThere's no agenda here, there's no facade,Ó McDermott said. žThis is a band of old road warriors with no glory factor just happy to be playing for two hours a night to people who want to see us.Ó