Irish singer Chloë Agnew is the daughter of globe-trotting musical parents, entertainer Adele “Twink” King and oboe virtuoso David Agnew. She first appeared on her mother’s RTE show when she was still in diapers. (Though, to be fair, she didn’t sing on the show until she was 6 years old.) She recorded her first CD when she was 12; her second, in 2004. Later on that same year, she appeared onstage in Dublin, the youngest member of what supposed to be a limited-run group, Celtic Woman.
And you probably know what happened to all thoughts of a limited run after that.
Agnew, now 23, and her luminous voice will appear with the latest lineup of Celtic Woman Sunday night at 8 at the Mann Center. It’s the group’s last stop on a long North America tour that began in early April. Catch them while you can.
Though Agnew has packed more musical stardom into her young life than many singers do over decades, performing never stops being a thrill—and at times surprisingly challenging for one so talented and experienced.
“I was born on the stage,” Agnew says. “I was immersed in all things music and theatre. It was just a way of life for me—it was like breathing air.”
But don’t assume singing before jam-packed auditoriums is a walk in the park. It’s certainly not disabling, but it’s no walk in the park, either.
“I think every performer wrestles with stage fright at some stage. If they tell you they don’t, they’re lying. For many years, I didn’t know how to harness it. It can come in fits and spurts. It’s actually a very healthy thing. The day you stop getting it (stage fright), obviously your heart and soul aren’t the way they once were. You have to keep battling through it, and use it as a positive thing. I’m all in favor of it, as awful as it is.”
For Agnew, life before Celtic Woman provided plenty of opportunity to get used to jitters. Her Wikipedia entry is impressive. Here are the high points:
• She won the grand prize at the first International Children’s Song Competition in Cairo in 1998.
• A year later, Agnew appeared in The Young Messiah, an updated interpretation of Handel’s Messiah.
• In 2000, she approached director David Downes (among other accomplishments, he was Riverdance’s Broadway music director) about recording a song to benefit the children of war-torn Afghanistan. The song, Angel of Mercy, was included in a successful CD, This Holy Christmas Night.
• After that, a three-year stint with the Christ Church Cathedral Girls’ Choir in Dublin.
• In 2002, the first CD, with support from Downes, the first CD, Chloë. In 2004, CD number 2, Chloë: Walking in the Air.
There were some non-musical accomplishments along the way. Growing up in Ireland, naturally, Agnew learned the Irish language, but she also sings in Italian, German and Latin. She also taught herself some Japanese. Since the show travels the world, she gets plenty of opportunities to employ her multilingual skills. “It’s been a real joy to be able to sing in all those languages,” she says. “It’s been incredible to do that.”
It probably should not have come as a surprise when Downes asked her to appear in Celtic Woman—back when no one had any idea that this gathering of gifted Irish females would become one of Ireland’s most successful exports, and a sure-fire public television fund drive money magnet.
“I had just turned 15,” Agnew recalls. “It all happened so quickly. I was still in school, and suddenly, to be getting the call to be a part of this show, it was just incredible. It was a fantastic night. We all knew something special would happen.”
Now, as the show approaches its 10th anniversary and it rolls into Philadelphia—where, Agnew says, local Irish are among the show’s biggest fans—Celtic Woman still feels as fresh as ever. “It’s like watching a child grow,” she says. “Just when you think it can’t get bigger and better … it does.”