NASHVILLE, Tennessee – When my friend and Music Spotlight artist Lynn Marie (Rodick) sent me a message that Clare Cunningham would soon be making her Opry debut, I immediately was drawn to this Irish-born singer.
I contacted her via email fully expecting to be redirected to a manager or PR representative. However, she answered me directly and eventually I got an interview scheduled. The more I dove into Clare’s story, the more intrigued I was.
Clare Cunningham is the only person in her family who pursued music as a career choice. And while her sister is an amazing singer and both her brothers could play guitar, none of them did it professionally.
She said of her parents, “My mom sings in the local church choir and my dad is the best Elvis impersonator known to mankind! He’s a born entertainer but only does it for fun at family events and sings at parties and the pub amongst his peers.”
But for her, music was her calling. There was never a “Plan B.”
Growing up, Clare was a huge Michael Jackson fan. But she also cites Garth Brooks, John Denver, Alanis Morrisette, Christy Moore, The Wolfe Tones, T-Rex, and ACDC as being huge influences in her diverse musical journey.
Her musical career started in earnest when she left home at age 18. She moved to Dublin to study music as a career. After obtaining a National Diploma in popular music performance and technology, she then moved to London where she attended the London College of Music majoring in vocals and left with a BA Hons degree in popular music and technology.
She informed, “It was during those years, I co-founded my first professional band Smokin Aces, a classic rock n roll 4-piece and acoustic duo. We took the band to Cardiff, Wales, straight out of university, where we toured up and down the UK and played over 390 shows a year.”
However, a phone call from an all-female Swedish heavy rock/metal band in 2013 changed her life overnight. They found her on YouTube and offered her the position of lead vocalist and her first show would be to open for Motörhead at a major festival in Sweden a month later. For a while, she was the lead vocalist for two bands, but eventually, the band, Thundermother, would sign with Warner Music Sweden where they recorded two albums, Rock n Roll Disaster and Road Fever.
Clare stated, “I owe a lot to Thundermother. It helped me grow as a musician and I gained a lot more knowledge about the industry. It also taught me what’s really important in life. Despite being on the rise and looking like my life was fantastic on the outside, the true story is that it wasn’t, and I had to make the decision to put my health before fame.”
But due to extensive touring and internal struggles with the band, her passion for the band was diminishing and in 2017 she broke ties with Thundermother.
Clare Cunningham cannot talk about her musical journey without including her faith journey as they are intrinsically linked.
She told me, “If you knew me 2.5 years ago this wouldn’t have been a topic of conversation. I restored my relationship with Christ at the end of 2020 after walking away from my faith and a belief system for nearly two decades.”
Because of the hypocrisy she saw surrounding the church in her youth, she turned away from her faith. She now has an outward appearance that no longer defines who she is on the inside.
She explained, “I do not regret my past way of living or the roads I chose to go down or was misled down because it got me to where I am today. I have so many personal testimonies and my evolution hasn’t been overnight. As I walk with the Lord, I am changing every day, for the better.”
And while in the past she struggled with depression and other mental health issues, she reports that, “The Lord has healed me of all mental health issues and how I view the world and people. They call it being ‘re-born’ and I truly feel like I am a brand-new person. This has nothing to do with religion and I share my testimony because of the miraculous healing in my mental state I’ve personally received because of it. I know that not everybody who reads this has a personal relationship with the Lord. I, too, was once an atheist so I never judge. I have no place to do that. It’s a big part of my journey and it’s why I share it.”
While touring with Thundermother she began to do some solo work. Once she parted ways, she always envisioned herself in America, and in 2018, she relocated to the US. And though she initially imagined living in LA, she felt drawn to Nashville and knew it was an easier place to settle.
“It was very welcoming,” she said.
Since the move, Clare has released two solo records Dear Ireland, and Mercy, and a lot of singles which include “Angel Of The Emerald Isle,” “I Swear,” “This is Me,” and the soul-stirring, “Clovers.” She records mainly at RCA studios on Music Row and has had the pleasure of writing with Grammy award-winning songwriters. Some of the players on her tracks have toured with artists such as Sheryl Crowe, The Chicks, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Reba, and many more. She has had support from a lot of amazing people in the industry including Blues Brothers guitarist Steve Cropper. Cropper helped co-produce the vocals on her most known and loved Celtic song “‘Éireann i mo chroí” (on EP Dear Ireland).
Still, even with all her previous successes, many acclaimed artists in Nashville never get invited to play the Opry. She credits Brenda Willis, founder of the Music City Irish Fest, and the Lord for helping her secure this exciting opportunity.
She exclaimed, “I couldn’t believe it! I canceled all tentative plans I’d had to be out of town on tour and kept it under wraps until we could announce it officially.”
Part of the Music City Irish Fest included special performances at the Opry on March 17th by the Nashville Irish Stepdancers, Rory Maken and Eileen Ivers. On the 18th Irish Bluegrass band, JigJam joined Clare in making their Opry Debut. For her performance, Clare sang her self-penned “Éireann i mo chroí” (Dear Ireland) with an acoustic version that was even more mesmerizing than the beautifully produced single.
After her performance, she told me, “It was like after months of preparation, it boiled down to those few minutes (on the Opry stage). It was a bit overwhelming, but I eased into it. Normally I close my eyes (when singing the song), but I wanted to leave them open tonight to take it all in.”
Later, when Steve Earle played his set, she joined him in on his mega-hit, “Galway Girl.”
She stated of her Opry experience, “[I was impressed by] the pure genuineness of the staff. Everyone is so helpful. They are well run.”
Not only that, but Clare was also able to meet and talk with Opry members Jeannie Seely and Lauren Alaina. But the surprise of the evening came when unannounced guests, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, graced the stage. Clare Cunningham got to meet Garth Brooks, one of the artists who most inspired her. This was the icing on the cake for the Irish-born folk singer.
Clare is now in the process of releasing a faith-based album called Helping Hand. She will continue to write songs, sing festivals throughout the country, and go “wherever the Lord leads me.”
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