McKennitt, Loreena

Loreena McKennitt, singer (b at Morden, Man 17 Feb 1957). Classically trained in her youth, Loreena McKennitt began experimenting with folk music during her teens, performing in clubs in Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Folk Festival at age 17. She was introduced to Celtic music in the late 1970s and moved to STRATFORD, Ontario, in 1981 to work at the STRATFORD FESTIVAL as a composer, singer and actress.

She took up the harp in 1984 and worked as a busker in Toronto before recording a debut album, Elemental (1985), through her own company, Quinlan Road Productions. Her vocal clarity, Celtic arrangements and pre-Raphaelite image were unique, and she soon attracted a small but devoted audience. Two more independent recordings (To Drive the Cold Winter Away and Parallel Dreams) followed, as well as scores for a number of feature films and NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA productions.

In an agreement between Quinlan Road and Warner Music Canada, Loreena McKennitt's work went into wide release for the first time with The Visit (1991). The album, rich in musical texture and highlighted by a 12-minute adaptation of Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shallot, sold 500 000 copies worldwide; it earned her a JUNO AWARD and won wide critical acclaim for its fusion of Celtic and contemporary influences. Reflecting her increased touring and travels overseas, The Mask and Mirror (1994) incorporated music influenced by the cultures of Spain, Morocco and medieval France. The album featured McKennitt's own songs as well as writings by William Shakespeare and Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. "The Bells of Christmas" was recorded for the Walt Disney film The Santa Clause (1994). Venice circa 1570, a trip aboard the Trans Siberian Express and readings of Dante's The Divine Comedy and the Alfred Noyes poem The Highwayman were among the diverse influences for The Book of Secrets (1997). Recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World studio in Bath, England, it became a North American best-seller in early 1998 thanks to radio airplay for a remixed, dance club-oriented version of The Mummers' Dance.

Her first album in nearly a decade, An Ancient Muse, was released in 2006 and focused on the landscape and lore of the eastern Mediterranean. Painstakingly researched, the songs revisited old Constantinople, travelled the Silk Road and conjured the spirits of Rumi, Saladin, St. John of the Cross and Richard the Lionheart. Nights from the Alhambra, a 3-CD live recording drawn from a concert originally televised on PBS, was released at the conclusion of the Ancient Muse tour in late 2007.

(See alsoCELTIC MUSIC.)