'The impact of that moment on the evening news [with Peter Mansbridge] made it impossible for EMI to keep up with the demand for the CD' - John McDermott

Canada's Scottish-Canadian Irish tenor John McDermott is celebrating 20 years of his professional singing career.

He's winding up a 12 city tour of Western Canada in Winnipeg at the Burton Cummings Theatre on Friday April 11.

SCENE asked him to share some highlights over his illustrious career:

In 1989 on a trip organized by the Toronto Sun, I was on a cruise called The Floating Film Festival. While on this cruise I was singing in a karaoke contest and the machine broke down. Rather than stop I simply sang without any backup. Two gentlemen, Bill Ballard and Michael Cohl told me after my performance that if I ever did anything with my voice I should give them a call. In 1992 when I recorded the Danny Boy album I did just that and then it all started to happen.

Bill Ballard and Michael Cohl were the largest concert promoters in the world. They took my CD to EMI. EMI released it on Angel Records. At the time I was the only Canadian to ever appear on Angel.

John McDermott

John McDermott with James Galway of the Chieftains. (Tom Higgins)

Then in the fall of 1993 after incredible sales of the Danny Boy CD the next thing I knew I was the opening act for the greatest Irish traditional band in the world, The Chieftains. This introduced me to Chieftains fans, to the rest of Canada and it gave me my first taste of performing live in front of an audience in every major performing arts centre in the country.

The Danny Boy CD was released on November 10, 1992 and on November 11 Peter Gzowski played 3 tracks from the disc. EMI had pressed and released 2000 copies. By Christmas it was at 25,000. A former St. Michael's Choir school graduate Paul McGrath was a producer at the CBC. He was moving to South Africa. Before he left Paul decided to do a 10 minute segment on me, my family and the CD.

By January of 1993 Peter Mansbridge closed the evening news with the piece. This was a watershed moment in my career - the impact of that moment on the evening news made it impossible for EMI to keep up with the demand for the CD. By mid-summer of 1993 the sales were over 100,000 and EMI chased me to put together a band and tour.

John McDermott

John McDermott fondly remembers singing at Fenway Stadium. (Tom Higgins)

I performed my first show in Toronto at The Royal Alexandra Theatre in November of 1994. My family was there. I was busy getting ready for the show when my father arrived and unbeknownst to me he suffered a fall in front of theatre. He was taken to St Michael's Hospital for stitching and patchwork. My brother and mother went with him.

Meanwhile, I had told my manager where my parents were sitting because I wanted to put a spotlight on them in the second half. This prompted him to immediately go search for parent lookalikes to put in those seats since he had not told me what had happened since he didn't want to upset me before the show. His search was futile….

Fortunately my father checked himself out, refusing to stay for observation so he arrived in time to see the second half. When the spotlight hit my parents they stood and waved at all in attendance as proud as could be. I did wonder why he had a bandage around his head. Later he shared the story with me and anyone who would listen.

My dad passed away two months later but was able to witness the success of his son as a singer. It was a dream he had once wished for himself but he chose to raise 12 children over a career in music.

John McDermott

John McDermott recalls meeting seven U.S. Presidents including Bill Clinton. (Tom Higgins)

I have to lump a few together because I have so many wonderful memories...performing at the White House five times; meeting seven Presidents, from Reagan to Bill Clinton to Obama; spending time with Ted Kennedy and his family at Hyannis;  performing at Wrigley Field, Fenway and Yankee Stadium; touring the United States with Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan and James Galway/The Royal Philharmonic orchestra as the Irish Tenors; performing with the amazing Nana Mouskouri on her world tour in 2003. When Harry Belafonte decided to drop out of the tour she asked me to join her and we closed the tour at Herodes Atticus in Athens on a stage built in 136 BC with the Acropolis looking down on us; touring the UK in 1995 with Judith Durham and the Seekers - we performed at Wembley Stadium. I've decided I need to write a book about my experiences!

Vimy Ridge

McDermott House Canada is a registered charity dedicated to serving those who serve. (Cliff Chadderton/War Amps Canada)

Other highlights include the success of McDermott House Canada Foundation in support of the Veterans in K Wing at Sunnybrook and Hospice care from coast to coast; John McDermott House in Washington DC - it's a transitional home for homeless veterans established in 1999; The Hope McDermott Chronic Care Unit attached to the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans and the St. Johns Food bank in Worcester Massachussetts which serves 500 meals a day to the needy.  

It is so gratifying to know that I am able to honour my father's wish that if I ever should achieve a level of success in this business I would give back to Canada and to the Veteran community for their service to us and our nation.

Hear John McDermott on the Weekend Morning Show with Terry MacLeod on Sunday, April 6 at 7:40. Don't miss his performance at the Burton Cummings Theatre on Friday April 11.