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Tara O'Grady. Photo by: Photo courtesy of Tara O'Grady

In Focus: Tara O’Grady, Irish American singer songwriter from Queens

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Tara O'Grady. Photo by: Photo courtesy of Tara O'Grady

Born in Queens, Tara O’Grady is an Irish American singer and songwriter.  Her unique rendition of “Danny Boy” is being featured in a BBC documentary celebrating the song’s 100th anniversary airing this fall.

Tell us about your Irish heritage.
“Mum is from Mountcharles, Co. Donegal. Dad’s father is from Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, and his mother is from Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford.”

You spent your childhood summers in Donegal.  What is your earliest memory of Ireland?
“I was one when Mum took me over first, and every summer after that. My grandparents’ farm was heaven compared to the streets of Queens. I’d play in the fields with my brother Tom, jump on the tractor with my granddad, collect eggs for breakfast, watch Granny milk her cows, stomp around in my wellies, take the dog to the beach. It was great fun. Those memories are golden.”

Who are your musical influences?
“I grew up on Irish trad and Elvis Presley because dad is a fiddle player, and mum loved the King. But my brother studied jazz, so later I was introduced to Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman and all I wanted to do was swing dance.”

Tell us about your latest album A Celt In the Cotton Club.
“It is my third release of jazz, blues and swing music. My second album was all originals, minus a Nina Simone cover, and I wanted to throw in a few Irish classics on the new one as I did with the first album, Black Irish, where I covered well-known Irish standards and swung the heck out of them. So the third CD is a mix of both originals and Irish standards featuring Michael Hashim on saxophone/clarinet. It’s impossible not to dance to this music.”

What music are you listening to at the moment?

“I pretty much only listen to the radio, WFUV. What other station plays Irish, jazz, and modern singer/songwriters? But if I’m not listening to old music to learn new material for my jazz/blues repertoire, then depending on my mood, I may turn on anything from Van Morrison to Louis Prima to Etta James. But Billie Holiday is always in my head when I go to sleep at night. She haunts me.”

Tell us about the inspiration for your cross country road trip.
“My dad’s Waterford mother drove a 1957 Chevy Bel Air from the South Bronx to Seattle in 1957. I wanted to replicate that journey so I made a YouTube video and sent it to GM in Detroit and asked Chevrolet to sponsor my trip. Catherine O’Donnell was an adventurous redhead who died young, so this was my way of honoring her and getting to know her spirit on the open road, stopping everywhere she stopped. I recently finished a book about the experience and I’m looking to publish.”

Tell us about your upcoming performances.
“The band is returning to Mary O’s at 32 Avenue A in Manhattan on Wednesday, September 25 from 7-10 p.m., and then Friday, October 4 we will be at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City, Queens at 8:30 p.m. performing all our swinging Irish standards. Imagine Billie Holiday singing ‘Danny Boy’ and you’ll get the idea. You can also check our schedule, watch the Chevy videos and other music videos at www.taraogradymusic.com.”

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