Internationally known Irish and Classical Crossover singer Michael Londra, is celebrated by audiences in America, Ireland and around the globe. Michael’s recent television special Beyond Celtic recently aired on PBS stations across the U.S. and was such a huge success that it aired over 250 times.
Michael not only continues to please loyal fans, but he is winning over new audiences with his tours, CDs, DVDs, television specials and public appearances. His beautiful version of the classic Irish song Danny Boy has touched the hearts of listeners around the world and has been downloaded on Youtube.com over 4 million times.
Michael was cast as the role of lead singer in the massively successful and long-running stage production of Riverdance, and went on a U.S. tour with the cast. Michael is originally from County Wexford in Ireland, but these days, when he is not on tour, he calls the great city of Chicago his home. Mr. Londra is also the co-founder of the website www.radiocelt.com.
Listening to Michael Londra sing has brought me peace and uplifted my spirits. I was fortunate enough to interview this talented man about his music, his life, Chicago and some of his passions.
Please tell me about your latest project that you are working on currently:
“Beyond Celtic is a project I’ve wanted to put together for several years. Because of my involvement as lead singer in Riverdance and being involved in the production side of Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder, I have wanted to film a concert for public television for the longest time. I brought together musical heroes like Frankie Gavin and De Dannan, I brought in the best of Irish dancers and on the day I surrounded myself with friends so I think it showed in the PBS show. It has aired almost 300 times nationwide. I couldn’t be happier about it.”
You have a three-week San Francisco show coming up in November. Can you tell me about this special performance?
“We start Dec 12 and do 22 shows through Jan 1. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be doing this show. The theater is right downtown in Union Square area which I expect to be full of holiday cheer. I am annoyingly sugary about all things Christmas so I love performing holiday music. The cast are spectacular with 11 piece orchestra, world champion Irish dancers and my special guests Sephira. There is a lot packed into the show and I know it will be just perfect for families over the holidays.”
Your Christmas CD “Beyond the Star” is very inspiring. Will you be performing the title song, as well as your amazing version of “You Raise Me Up” in concert this year?
“When I wrote Beyond the Star I didn’t realise the kind of reaction the song would get. It is so strange to see people send videos of them singing the song. It has a classic feel to it so I hope it will be popular for a long time to come. I think you might have mixed up You Raised Me Up with Danny Boy. I have never recorded YRMU but my Danny Boy is probably my calling card. They have the same melody and are both Irish so I can see the mix up happening. We hit 5 million views of Danny Boy on YouTube this week. I am constantly in awe of the power of this song to reach into the listener’s heart and grab hold of it. People ask if I am sick singing it but I am proud that my version has become a standard bearer for the song and I will never be sick of it.”
Throughout your work, I see you are passionate about your faith in God. Were you raised with deep faith, or was there a conversion or transformation that took place at some point in your life?
“I was raised Catholic but obviously there have been a couple of issues that have made me rethink the situation. God however plays a huge part in my life and I am directed by that. It is not in Irish people’s nature to be shouting it from the rooftop so it is a private thing for me. We aren’t ones for raising the arms and wailing!”
I see that you worked on the “The Passion of the Christ Symphony”. What was that experience like for you?
“Working with John Debney is intense, scary and amazing at the same time. I was so nervous and to this day I can’t figure out why he asked me. He heard me sing in Riverdance in Vegas and very soon after asked me to be part of it. Singing it, I was surrounded by the best of Hollywood so I was like a fish out of water. It however came together really well despite John having to remind me that Jesus was not from Ireland as my accent got in the way a few times. John has been so encouraging and I hope to God, one day he will need me for something else. He is a genius.”
Your music, videos and concert performances receive a tremendous amount of hits and feedback on You Tube. Does that change the way you approach your music or stage shows in any way?
“No. It doesn’t even cross my mind. I perform songs that touch me, I connect with the audience in a very natural way and my shows are essentially a glimpse of my outlook on life. Anything that interfered with that would not feel good to me. People have opinions, good and bad so I ignore it all. I just keep doing what I do.”
You started a website back in 2003 called Radiocelt Is that something you are very hands-on with to this day?
“I pride myself as an advocate for Irish musicians and dancers who normally don’t get access to the public in any great way. When I had the opportunity to put together a channel specifically for Celtic music, I jumped at the chance. My touring means I spend very little time there but the programmer for Radiocelt Patrick Fitzell has just as much passion as I do for Irish music so I know it is in good hands. I keep an eye on things and recommend artists who I think need to be heard. It is a wonderful station and it is free. What’s not to love?”
I know you are now based in Chicago. Are there any favorite stories or memories about living here that you would like to share?
“I love everything about this town. I live in Printer’s Row which is perfect for the park, the lake shore, the theater and the best restaurants in North America. I tour all the time so while I have an address here , I spend only a quarter of the year in town so after 10 years, I am getting to know the place. I love walking around the city which is just as well as I don’t drive!”
What do you like to do during your downtime here in Chicago? Any restaurants or clubs you like to visit in particular?
“I love good food and wine. The best place in town, hands down, is The Gage on Michigan Ave. I go there for the amazing Gage burger. Their wine menu is remarkable and they do a decent pint of Guinness. I can’t say the same for owner Billy Lawless’ terrible jokes. I also love Hackneys and Flaco Tacos on South Dearborn, casual, cheap and cheerful.”
I noticed that you covered the rock classic Bohemian Rhapsody. Did you ever meet Freddie Mercury or any members of Queen? If so, what is your relationship with them?
“RTE, the national TV station in Ireland asked me to sing at the opening of the new Opera House in my home town. The show was enormous and getting to sing with the national symphony orchestra and choirs was thrilling, especially as I was on home turf. I initially thought it a mistake in asking me to sing a Freddie Mercury song but it came together really well and I’m proud of it. You can see the pride in the YouTube clip. As for Freddie and Queen, I saw Brian May at an event in my home town a few years ago and stalked him around the room but didn’t get to chat to him.”
Are there any current singers you would like to work with?
“So many. I want to sing with greats like Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett and Adele but the question is would they ever sing with me? I would also love to work with Lady Antebellum, Stevie Nicks and I have this secret wish that Eminem will need an Irish singer for a riff on his next album. Everyone calls me an Irish tenor but even though I am Irish and a tenor, it is a different thing. I have a contemporary sound….could you please let Eminem know?”
Who are your biggest inspirations in life, personally or professionally?
“My home town and the people in it, influence me hugely. Wexford defined me as a singer and as a person. As a result, I am a well-rounded, positive person who is focused, but has a healthy sense of humor about this business. I sing to make them proud and I am hugely proud of them. My work with Concern Worldwide and my trips to Haiti to see their programs give me perspective. These people are heroes to me.”
Do you come from a musical family?
“My mother has 11 brothers and sisters and they all sing. Wexford is famous for its Opera Festival and this has filtered through the small community. There is a love for singing and most locals are interested in opera, musical theater or choral music. You can hear locals singing everything from Sondheim to Puccini in the local pubs during the opera festival. It is in our blood. Make sure it is a stop on your next trip to Ireland. It is one of Ireland’s best kept secrets and where Irish people go on vacation.”
Your voice is beautiful. Are there any vocal tricks you would like to share with readers?
“I appreciate that, thank you. It still kind of surprises me to hear when my voice affects people. I really have an Irish attitude about it and don’t take it so seriously. I am sensible with my voice, so no smoky bars or too much booze….most of the time. Treat your voice like any other part of your body. Keep it fit, prepare, warm up, don’t overuse it, but most of all, love it. Love what you sing and it will show every time.”
Do any of your family members go on tour with you?
“My family are all based in Ireland and while they are proud of my career, maintain a healthy attitude to it. They admire it…… from the comfort of their homes! I plan on taking my nephew out on the road as being on tour is a major education. You get to see the world, be independent, responsible and there are some really cool perks. Touring is a great adventure.”
Is there anything your fans would be surprised to hear about you? Did you ever work any odd jobs before you achieved your success?
“Well, I didn’t sing professionally until I was 30 and had a full time career as a behavior therapist for people with learning disabilities. I loved it and it was my life. My close friends staged an intervention and persuaded me to take a leap of faith. Luckily it worked out for me. I don’t know that I have that many surprises for people. I like my life simple. Everyone thinks that because I tour around the world that I love living the high life but for me you can’t beat a quiet pint of Guinness with friends. It is the closest thing to heaven I can imagine.”
Is there one CD or song that you feel best defines you, or captures the essence of who you are as a person?
“There is a line in the chorus of Beyond the Star that describes my life: Beyond the Star, beyond the journey, over, I wander far, a guiding light to lead me home, so far from where I thought I’d be.”
“I never thought I would get to travel the world and have the life I am living. Singing has given me an adventure but it is always nice to know that Wexford is there for me when I need.”
I believe Michael Londra’s music brings joy to many folks out there and he has proven himself a gentleman and true artist. Hopefully, Mr. Londra’s journey will continue Beyond the Star for many years to come.
Robert Levy is a freelance writer and Chicago native with a degree in business administration. Robert is also a musician who has fronted several rock bands, as well as having a solo career, during which he released two CDs that have received local airplay. Robert has performed in clubs, cafes, and outdoor festivals throughout the United States.