Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies at Catskills Irish Arts Week, 2018. GWEN OREL


A post shared by John Kearns (@kearns_john) on

How it’s New York: Joanie Madden is from Yonkers.
How it’s Irish: Joanie is huge in the Trad world, front woman of Cherish the Ladies. Her late father Joe Madden was a well-known accordion player.

Joanie Madden named Irish American Writers & Artists Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award Winner!

During Catskills Irish Arts Week, John Kearns, treasurer and Salon producer for Irish American Writers & Artists, and Mary Pat Kelly, IAW&A vice president, traveled to East Durham to announce that Cherish the Ladies’ Joanie Madden is named the 2018 Eugene O’Neill Award Winner. Joanie is such an icon in the trad world that Liz Carroll has written a slip jig titled “Are You Joanie Madden?”



The 2017 winner was Phil Donahue. Previous winners are: Malachy McCourt, Patricia Harty, Pete Hamill, John Patrick Shanley, Judy Collins, Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly, and Brian Dennehy.

From their website, IAW&A describes its mission:

…to highlight, energize and encourage Irish Americans working in the arts. IAW&A is committed both to bringing together the Irish American creative community in new self-awareness and to being a force for inter-ethnic and interracial solidarity, understanding and active cooperation.


Joanie Madden. GWEN OREL

Joanie certainly has been active in maintaining the tradition. She teaches at Catskills Irish Arts Week, and her Folk ‘N Irish Cruises bring together an incredible roster of musicians to perform and guests to enjoy.

Cherish the Ladies was organized by Dr. Mick Moloney in 1985. Joanie and Mary Coogan were with it from the start. Over the years, Cherish has had such performers as Liz Carroll, Cathie Ryan, Eileen Ivers. Today’s lineup is: Joanie on whistles and vocals (yes! vocals!); Mary Coogan on guitar, Mirella Murray on accordion, Kathleen Boyle on keyboards, and Nollaig Casey on fiddle.

Joanie is a terrific interview and an unforgettable person. Years ago, I was special concerts director for the Folk Project, New Jersey, I presented Cherish’s Christmas concert to a sold-out house. My late father, Leo Orel, never forgot this joke: She was having a piano delivered. The deliveryman, trying to get it sorted, said “Where’s your husband?” Joanie replied, “I don’t know, where is he?”

Joanie likes to tell audiences about how she and fiddle player Eileen Ivers went to school together from kindergarten through junior high. Eileen asked Joanie what she played and when Joanie told her, Eileen replied, “Whistle is for babies.”

“Whistle is for babies. True story,”

Eileen was already an all-Ireland champion several times over by the age of 12, Joanie said. Joanie did not become one until she was 18.

She’s a fixture at CIAW, a night owl who would often come in to the (now gone) Furlong’s or the Blackthorne as a session was petering out– around 3 a.m.– and with her hearty laughter and enthusiasm, get it going again.

Her self-deprecating humor and huge friendliness almost belie the amazing collection of awards listed below.

From the Cherish website:

Born in New York of Irish parents and raised in a musical household, her mother hails from Miltown Malbay, County Clare and her father Joe, an All-Ireland Champion accordion player was a native of Portumna, County Galway. At a very early age, Joanie was exposed to the finest Irish traditional music listening to her father and his friends play music at family gatherings and social events. She began taking lessons from legendary flutist and National Heritage Award winner Jack Coen, and within a few short years, she had achieved great success winning the world championship in Irish music on both the concert flute and tin whistle. During that time, Joanie also became the first American to win the coveted Senior All-Ireland Championship on the whistle.

Madden has sold over 500,000 solo albums and has performed on over 200 recordings, including three Grammy-winning albums running the gamut from Pete Seeger and Sinead O’Connor to the Boston Pops. Throughout her musical career, she has amassed a plethora of awards and citations. Her merits include being the youngest member inducted into both the Irish-American Musicians Hall of Fame and the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Hall of Fame, she was chosen for the Wild Geese award, where she joined an impressive list of previous honorees, including: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt, Tony award winning playwright Brian Friel, Nobel prize laureate Seamus Heaney and Irish dance sensation, Michael Flatley.

Irish America Magazine selected her twice as one of the Top 100 Irish-Americans in the United States and she was also named Traditional Musician of the Year by the Irish Voice newspaper, all


Joanie and Joe Madden.

for her contributions to promoting and preserving Irish culture in the United States. In 2010, Joanie was forever immortalized on the streets of her native Bronx when a street was named after her on the Grand Concourse: “Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies”.

In 2011, she was bestowed one of the nation’s highest awards as she was chosen for the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, joining an illustrious list of distinguished American citizens, including six United States Presidents as well as Ambassadors, Senators, Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices, all singled out for their exemplary service to the United States. In 2012, she was a recipient of the esteemed USA Artist Fellowship grant, singled out as one of the most innovative and influential artists in America, becoming the first Irish traditional musician to do so. In 2013 she won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Music Awards and also named Grand Marshal of the Yonkers parade in New York. 2015, Joanie was named Clare Person of the Year by the County Clare Association in New York and also the recipient of the Turlough O’Carolan Award for her musical legacy. In 2016, Irish America Magazine named Joanie as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Irish Women in the world.

Recently she was quoted in the obituary for the late piper Liam O’Flynn: 

“When it came to music, he was just pure genius, and his music was filled with heart and soul,” said Joanie Madden, of the Celtic group Cherish the Ladies. (Mr. O’Flynn is heard on its 2001 release, “The Girls Won’t Leave the Boys Alone.”) “I think the testament of a great musician is playing a slow air, and, by God, he could move your heart by how he played slow airs.”

The same could be said of the woman herself.


Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.