Ladies cherish their Irish heritage

By Larissa Gula

Cherish the Ladies

Byham Theater

March 5, 8… Cherish the Ladies

Byham Theater

March 5, 8 p.m.

$20.50-$32.50 — available through Pitt Arts for $10.50 or $27.50

(412) 456-1350

After performing for 25 years, it’s safe to say Cherish the Ladies has more than the luck of the Irish on its side.

Cherish the Ladies is an Irish-American group of female musicians and performers that retell and create folk-style Celtic music.

“The music can be so achingly gorgeous and sad, and then happy as it can be one minute later,” Joanie Madden, the Cherish the Ladies’ flute and tin whistle player, said. “I don’t know what it is, but it never ceases to amaze us when the audience is not all Irish people, but an all spectrum of ethnicities.”

Madden said she’s excited to return to Pittsburgh after a five-year hiatus.

Cherish the Ladies will bring four dancers and an 11-piece band and feature Pittsburgh dancers from the Burke-Conroy School of Irish Dance in its performance.

Madden said she is amazed that Cherish the Ladies has lasted for 25 years. Its creation followed a suggestion from traditional Irish musician and scholar Mick Moloney.

“I never thought it would make it two and a half weeks, let alone 25 years,” Madden said. “Our success is that we combine music, singing and dancing and that we have a ball on stage. I’ve always surrounded myself with first-class musicians, singers and dancers. I guess that people come out, enjoy themselves and come back and bring a friend.”

Cherish the Ladies takes its name from an Irish jig that all of the group’s original members learned as young women.

The group never set out to create a performance act and only thought of truly forming Cherish the Ladies after Moloney suggested the members showcase their musical abilities.

“For hundreds of years, Irish music was passed man to son, and now it was fathers to daughters,” Madden said. “We never started out to have a girl band. In the early days when we started, people said it was a marketing ploy [and that we were] some type of Celtic Spice Girls. Then they realized we could play.”

Madden said she surrounded herself with talented people who she only sees as musicians, no strings attached.

“Everyone can stand up in [his or her] own shoes,” she said. “I’m proud of who I have on stage with me. Everyone is a champion in what they do.”

In addition to being talented, everyone has a shared Irish heritage.

“I grew up in an immigrant household,” Madden said. “All of us in the band come from homes where our dads played music. This music was passed down to us by our fathers, lovingly so.”

The Irish folktale music is “a great sense of a community” for Madden.

“I fell in love with it early on, and my father was thrilled to have a daughter carrying the music on,” Madden said.

On stage, Cherish the Ladies demonstrates its talent by bringing old-style songs to the stage while composing new songs that only sound old.

“We compose our tunes, but we always try to make sure they sound like they’ve been around for 200 years,” Madden said. “But we also play some traditional songs. We always try to make it fit and make it sound old. That’s the testament of the tune.”

But while the group performs olden style music, the reality of the present stays strong. Madden described Cherish the Ladies as straight-up lucky.

“Anyone will tell you music business is not an easy business,” Madden said. “While you still do a craft you love, you need to become a business person. We’ve had to overcome stigmatism of just being a girl band.”

Madden said she is “humbled by people enjoying us so much” and aims to continue to play and enjoy herself until Cherish the Ladies loses support.

Only one thing can make a night even more enjoyable than the chance to perform, Madden said.

“We’re working towards a standing ovation,” she said. “We got one every night so far.”