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Some know Kitty Donohoe for concerts and recorded songs. Others, for her work in schools, or by her children’s book. Many are familiar with Donohoe’s 911 tributes, and travelers to Ireland might know her as their guide.
On Friday, those who somehow haven’t heard of the multi-talented singer, as well as long-time fans, get a chance to hear Donohoe in person at Lansing’s Allen Marketplace. Her show features Nellie Schrantz on fiddle, and afterwards, an Irish sing-along with lyrics provided and hosted by Sally Potter a perfect prelude to St. Patrick’s Day.
Despite Irish-American parents and a name that sounds native to the Green Isle, Donohoe insisted, “I’m very much American.” Kitty Donohoe is no stage moniker, either. “That’s my real name,” she said from a phone in Ann Arbor, her home for 17 years.
She grew up in the Royal Oak suburb of Detroit in the ‘60s. At first she was a pianist, like her classically trained mother, eventually moving onto the guitar and cistern. After singing in choirs, at open mics and coffeehouses, and being the “girl singer” in bands like Spoon River, Donohoe left home at 19.
“It was time to move out,” she said. Donohoe first traveled to Nova Scotia, where she got exposed to Canadian folk and Celtic music. “That was my first introduction to traditional Scots and Irish music,” she said. “A huge influence.”
By the early ‘70s, when she lived near Lansing Community College, those influences were apparent in early solo appearances in Lansing area venues. “I played at Hobie’s, Olde World and the Varsity Inn,” she said.
That was when other local folk pioneers, like Joel Mabus and Ray Kamalay, were also making names for themselves.
Donohoe had a stint managing the Ten Pound Fiddle organization, the group hosting her Friday show. “I did it for two seasons in the ‘80s,” she said. After seeing many folk societies fade, Donohoe was impressed with the Fiddle’s longevity. She said it was because of a hardworking staff and the strength of the folk community.
It was East Lansing where Donohoe first played a song she had written following the 911 attacks. It was called “There are No Words.”
“It got a great reaction,” she said. The audience told her, “You need to record this.”
After she did, it was featured in a Detroit news station’s documentary. That won her a Michigan Emmy in 2002 and led to her singing at the Pentagon’s 911 Memorial Dedication in 2008.
Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Paul Stookey has performed “There Are No Words” at his shows, and more than a dozen artists have recorded Donohoe’s songs. She has opened for scores of famous folk artists, such as Tom Paxton, Doc Watson, Bruce Cockburn and David Bromberg. In October of 2008, Donohoe opened for Bruce Springsteen at an Obama rally at Eastern Michigan University.
In 2016, she released a children’s book that took “a couple of years off and on” called “Henny and Benny Bunny and The Maple Syrup Adventure.” It includes a five-song CD. Donohoe has two grown children. “I have some songs that I still like and occasionally perform that were inspired by them.”
While raising her kids, Donohoe traveled to Michigan elementary schools performing original songs about the state. “I wrote a lot of songs about Michigan,” Donohoe said, “which are going to outlive me — which is totally amazing!” “I’m doing what I like doing,” Donohoe added. These days, that means playing “several gigs a month, and sometimes a couple” mostly in the Great Lakes region. “I used to go out East, but it didn’t help my career.” She is her own agent. “The Internet has changed everything.”
Once every summer, Donohoe is a musical tour guide for Inishfree’s Irish music tours. Her May 23 trip has sold out.
“So far, I’m still loving it,” Donohoe said.
“It has a lot to do with the amazing tour-ees that come along. It makes it fresh for me every time when I see Ireland through their eyes.”
Wherever she is, Donohoe is careful about her voice. “I take care of it,” she said. “I do vocal exercises every day.” Donohoe called her voice “pretty clear” and takes pride in listeners being able to decipher her words. People often remark, “I can understand you.”
Her Friday night concert reunites her with fiddler and step-dancer, Nellie Schrantz — a fellow member of the ‘90s acoustic Irish rock band, Pub Domain.
The duo will include “classic Irish songs and a good Irish-American blend of music,” and material from her fifth CD, “The Irishman’s Daughter.”
Kitty Donohoe at Ten Pound Fiddle
Friday, March 16 7:30 pm - 10:00 pm $15 Allen Market Place (The AMP) 1629 East Kalamazoo Street Lansing, MI www.tenpoundfiddle.org