John McDermott | The Canadian Encyclopedia


John McDermott

John (Charles) McDermott. Tenor, popular singer, b Glasgow, Scotland, 25 March 1955. John McDermott emigrated from Glasgow to Canada with his family in 1965.

McDermott, John

John (Charles) McDermott. Tenor, popular singer, b Glasgow, Scotland, 25 March 1955. John McDermott emigrated from Glasgow to Canada with his family in 1965. Living in Willowdale as part of a musical family of mixed Irish and Scots heritage, he received his only formal musical training 1970-1 at St Michael's Choir School. Later, McDermott sang at weddings, and in 1980 with other choristers formed The Mistletones; he sang the national anthem for the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Maple Leafs ca 1988-92. He worked at various non-musical jobs including circulation representative for the Toronto Sun, where Conrad Black heard him sing at company parties. Black and other executives financed McDermott's independent recording, Danny Boy, in 1992. It was taken up by EMI Music Canada, which released it across North America. Danny Boy's unexpected success led McDermott at age 36 to pursue a professional singing career.

McDermott's Professional Career

John McDermott's debut concert performance took place 5 Oct 1993, in Halifax. He toured Canada, opening for The Chieftains; the following year he toured Australia and New Zealand, where Danny Boy went to No. 1. In 1995, he toured the UK with The Seekers. By then internationally recognized, he began touring regularly as a solo act. Noteworthy performances include those in France at D-Day ceremonies (1995) and at the US Democratic National Convention (1996). He hosted concert specials for CBC Television in 1997; a solo television special, John McDermott: A Time to Remember, aired on the US PBS network in 2002. Earlier, McDermott joined Ireland's Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan to form The Irish Tenors; their 1998 Dublin concert led to US tours, television appearances, and a gold record.

McDermott's Repertoire

McDermott's early recordings covered traditional Celtic songs (eg "The Rose of Tralee"), and newer material on loss and remembrance (eg, "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda"). In concert, McDermott's signature song was "Danny Boy," sung a capella. Although some characterize him as a nostalgia singer, his sincerity is not in question. His recordings sold strongly through word of mouth; concerts were sold out. The McDermott phenomenon offered temporary escape to a misty Old World past, unembarrassedly tapping into audiences' desire for meaningfulness and stability. His voice always approachable, never abrasive, he provided an antidote to contemporary pop's shallow angst.


By 1997, Danny Boy had reached double platinum status in Canada. Old Friends also attained platinum.

John McDermott's song selections on any given album typically span 250 years or more. By his fourth album, Love Is a Voyage (1995), McDermott was including more 20th-century songs, eg, "Here, There and Everywhere." Diversifying, McDermott recorded national anthems (on O Canada) and inspirational music (on Great Is Thy Faithfulness). He roamed further afield in 2003 with Stories of Love, delivering pop and jazz standards in an understated crooning style.

John McDermott recorded works by many Canadian songwriters: George W. Johnson's "When You And I Were Young, Maggie," Ruth Lowe's "Put Your Dreams Away," Laura Lemon's "My Ain Folk," Allister MacGillivray's "Song for the Mira," and others by Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLauchlan, Ted Dykstra, Frank Mills and Ron Hynes.

Awards and Recognition

For his support for veterans' causes, John McDermott was made an honorary member of The War Amps, and received the US Congressional Medal of Honor Society's Bob Hope Award. He received five Juno nominations 1993-8. McDermott was called the "worthy heir to the famed Irish tenor John McCormack" (Chicago Sun Times).

Further Reading