From Ireland to Youngstown Daniel O'Donnell

By John Benson

After decades of performing in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, Irish-born singer Daniel O’Donnell had almost become resigned to the fact that he would never enjoy large success in America.

It was just over 10 years ago when, at the age of 40, O’Donnell experienced a fortuitous — if not unlikely — turn of events that brought him stateside attention.

“I had come to the states and Canada but didn’t gain a great following,” O’Donnell said. “Then public television gave us that opportunity by airing our television specials. At that point, I wasn’t a teenager, so it was a very nice opportunity.”

Earlier this year marked O’Donnell’s 13th PBS television special, “Daniel O’Donnell: Stand Beside Me.” The singer admitted having one television special was unique; having a baker’s dozen was “staggering” and “amazing.”

It’s no secret that American audiences love Celtic music, with O’Donnell known to perform uplifting ballads, country music, pop hits and Irish standards with his trademark melodic voice. Youngstown audiences will get to see firsthand the multitalented artist, who has sold more than 12 million CDs and DVDs worldwide, when he makes his area debut Wednesday at Powers Auditorium.

Often joined on stage by Mary Duff, O’Donnell said the upcoming concert features selections from his latest CD, “A Picture of You,” which includes Rita MacNeil tribute “Home I’ll Be” and a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Penny Arcade.”

“This album was kind of a step back,” O’Donnell said. “For the past number of years, I did themed albums where I took music from the movies or gospel or country. When I first started years ago, I just recorded a mixture of songs with no particular theme in mind, just maybe an Irish song, maybe a country song, gospel or whatever.

“That’s what I’ve kind of done with this album, just a mixture of a whole lot of favorites from myself with a few originals, a few new ones, some older ones and a few ballads.”

Though somewhat unknown in mainstream circles in America, O’Donnell’s story is well publicized across the pond. The singer’s life is a fascinating tale of humble beginnings and a journey to musical success. He grew up in the little Irish seaside village of Kincasslagh, where his home featured an open-hearth fire with pots hanging from crooks and simmering over hot coals.

O’Donnell’s father, a hard-working farm laborer, passed away when O’Donnell was 6, yet the boy with his dream survived with an inspiring mother, four older brothers and sisters and a house full of relatives singing and telling stories.

Today, O’Donnell regularly performs in some of the world’s largest and most-prestigious venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall, Dublin’s Point Depot, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Sydney’s Opera House

Despite the world success, O’Donnell said these days he most enjoys performing for new audiences, which is exactly what he’ll be doing in Youngstown.

“We generally have a good time,” O’Donnell said.

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