One of the most highly regarded and sought-after Irish-American groups in Celtic music, the all-female collective Cherish the Ladies turned a brief 1985 concert series into a decades-long career that has included numerous albums and world tours and collaborations with artists like the Chieftains, Pete Seeger, Vince Gill, and the Boston Pops. Behind leader Joanie Madden, the ever-evolving band has acted as a springboard for a host of talented female Celtic musicians including Eileen Ivers, Heidi Talbot, and Winifred Horan. Throughout their prolific career, they have recorded albums for major labels like RCA and vaunted folk institutions like Shanachie, Green Linnet, Windham Hill, and Rounder as well as releasing a 2013 Emmy-winning live DVD.
An outgrowth of a New York concert series aimed at increasing the exposure of Irish-American women in the then-male-dominated Celtic music scene, the group's first iteration was assembled in 1985 by veteran Irish musician Mick Moloney. Led by Bronx-born whistle and flute player Joanie Madden, and using a name taken from a traditional jig, the group played a series of sold-out gigs at Manhattan's Ethnic Folk Arts Center which then yielded the 1985 album Irish Women Musicians in America. Initially billed as more of a one-off collaboration, the group's combined stellar musicianship drew an enthusiastic response and created the demand for further work.
Beginning in the early '90s, Cherish the Ladies established themselves as a powerhouse of talent, employing a core lineup that revolved around Madden and at various times included musicians like Cathie Ryan, Maureen Doherty Macken, Siobhan Egan, Mary Coogan, Aoife Clancy, and Eileen Ivers, among others. Playing a mix of songs and traditional jigs and reels and featuring live Irish step dancing and rich harmonies, they became known as a thrilling live band who toured internationally. After several albums for Celtic specialists Green Linnet Records, Cherish the Ladies issued a pair of major-label albums in the late '90s for RCA, the latter of which, 1999's At Home, included collaborations with members of the Clancy Brothers.
Collaboration has been a recurring theme for the group, who played with the legendary Boston Pops Orchestra in 1998 on the Grammy-nominated collection The Celtic Album. Their 2001 release The Girls Won't Leave the Boys Alone featured a range of outside musicians, from American folk luminaries like Pete Seeger and Tom Chapin to pop-oriented Irish artists like Luka Bloom and Hothouse Flowers frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí. In 2004, the band recorded their first holiday album, On Christmas Night. They followed up a year later with another guest-heavy outing, Woman of the House, which featured friends like fiddle legend Phil Cunningham, accordionist Sharon Shannon, and singer Eddi Reader. Their 2011 album Country Crossroads was a career standout and musical cross-pollination that paired them with country artists like Vince Gill and Nanci Griffith.
In addition to their many recordings, Cherish the Ladies also developed a popular Celtic pops program that they toured around the country, performing hundreds of dates over the years with many of the world's major orchestras. In 2013, they released the Emmy-winning live DVD An Irish Homecoming, filmed during their performance at Bucknell University. They have continued to tour and record, returning in 2015 with a second holiday set, Christmas in Ireland, then in 2018 with the spirited Heart of the Home album. ~ Timothy Monger