Six time Grammy winners, The Chieftains are now recognized for bringing traditional Irish music to the world's attention. They have uncovered the wealth of traditional Irish music that has accumulated over the centuries, making the music their own with a style that is as exhilarating as it is definitive.
The Chieftains were formed in 1962 by Paddy Moloney, from the ranks of the top folk musicians in Ireland. Paddy brought together musicians such as fiddler Martin Fay, flautist Michael Tubridy, tin whistle virtuoso Seán Potts, and bodhrán player David Fallon. They recorded a supposedly one-off instrumental album but five years later were reunited with some additions - fiddler Seán Keane, and Peader Mercier replacing Fallon. Harpist Derek Bell came on board in 1973. It wasn't until 1975 that The Chieftains began playing together full time and they marked the event with a historic performance at Royal Albert Hall in London. The following few years saw the departure of Mercier, and the addition of bodhrán player and vocalist Kevin Conneff. Another lineup change in '78/79 would see the departure of Potts and Tubridy and the addition of a new flautist, Matt Molloy.
Although their early following was purely a folk audience, the range and variation of their music very quickly captured a much broader public, making them the best known Irish band in the world today.
Never afraid to shock purists and push boundaries, in their over 50 years together The Chieftains have amassed a dizzyingly varied resume. They have been involved in such historic events as a tour of China (being the first Western group to perform on the Great Wall), Roger Waters' "The Wall" performance in Berlin in 1990, became the first group to give a concert in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC (at the invitation of former Speaker, Thomas "Tip" O' Neill), and in October of 2001, Paddy performed at a Ground Zero memorial service in New York for the victims of September 11th. They have performed with many symphony and folk orchestras worldwide, and have broken many musical boundaries by collaborating and performing with some of the biggest names in rock, pop and traditional music in Ireland and around the world.
On top of their six Grammy awards, they have been honoured in their own country by being officially named Ireland’s Musical Ambassadors, performed during the Pope's visit to Ireland in 1979 in front of a 135,000,000 strong audience, and were the subject of a Late Late Show tribute in 1987, their 25th anniversary. In 2010, Paddy’s whistle and Matt’s flute travelled to outer space with NASA astronaut, Catherine (Cady) Coleman, and in 2011, they performed for HRH Queen Elizabeth II during her historical visit to Ireland.
In 2010, The Chieftains released a collaboration with guitarist/producer Ry Cooder entitled “San Patricio” on the Concord Music Group label. The album was named after The San Patricio Battalion, a group of Irish immigrant conscripts who deserted the US Army in 1846 to fight on the Mexican side of the Mexican-American War. This release proved a remarkable collaboration, with many of the most distinguished Mexican and Mexican-American musicians including Lila Downs, Los Tigres Del Norte, Los Cenzontles, and Carlos Nunez, as well as narration by Liam Neeson and a piece featuring Linda Ronstadt. A commercial and critical success, the album sold over 60,000 copies in North America and charted number 37 in the Billboard 200, the highest charting of all 58 of The Chieftains albums. Extraordinarily, “San Patricio” was the subject of a St. Patrick’s Day 2010 New York Times Editorial, which celebrated the unlikely juxtaposition between the Irish and the Mexicans: “The rest is joy, thoroughly Mexican yet utterly Irish, carried aloft by tin whistles, skin drums, pipes, harps, guitars, and stomping feet. It’s a mix you’ve never heard, but eerily familiar…We are all people who have lost our land in one sad way and found another. Whether we lament and celebrate in a pub or cantina, whether our tricolour flag has a cactus on it or not, we are closer to one another than we remember.”
The trappings of fame have not altered The Chieftains' love of, and loyalty to, their roots - they are as comfortable playing spontaneous Irish sessions as they are headlining a concert at Carnegie Hall. After all these years of making some of the most beautiful music in the world, The Chieftains' music remains as fresh and relevant as when they first began.
2012 marked the group’s 50th anniversary, and they celebrated the momentous occasion by collaborating with old and new friends alike, reliving past memories and introducing The Chieftains historic career to a whole new generation of fans. The Chieftains’ most recent album, Voice of Ages found the band collaborating with some of modern music’s fastest rising artists (Bon Iver, The Decemberists, The Punch Brothers and the Pistol Annies among them) to reinterpret traditional songs for old and new generations alike, proving what the music means today while hinting where it might lead tomorrow.