From New Orleans to Donegal

How The Henry Girls developed a close relationship with the music of three jazz-singing sisters from the 1930s

From New Orleans to Donegal - The Henry Girls have recorded a live album of music by 1930s jazz singers The Boswell Sisters

Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin have been playing music by The Boswell Sisters since 2016

Beginning with them stumbling across some videos on YouTube, The Henry Girls’ relationship with 1930’s jazz-singing trio The Boswell Sisters has resulted in a new album for the Donegal sisters.

Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin are launching Shout Sister Shout, their live album of songs by Martha, Connie and Helvetia Boswell, at An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny on February 7.

The Boswell Sisters were three sisters from New Orleans who after being trained in classical music as children, fell in love with jazz. The trio became one of the biggest radio acts of the1930s, making their name after they moved to New York.

Their unique vocal style would inspire singers who came after them such as Ella Fitzgerald.

It’s been over four years since the sisters from Malin first played Boswell’s music live. The first time was in the relaxed atmosphere of Bennigan’s jazz lounge in Derry in 2016. 

“That was just a taster to see how it would go, just see what the audience would think,” Karen says. “It was really, really well-received.” 

Since then the music of the Boswells has become familiar to fans of The Henry Girls and a side project has developed alongside their own live material. The Henry Girls have been playing complete shows of Boswell music since that November night in Derry. Starting at Derry’s jazz festival in 2017 they have gone on to perform the set at the Cork Jazz Festival, the Galway Arts Festival and the Earagail Arts Festival.

The Donegal three-piece play the music accompanied by a seven-piece band to recreate the jazz stylings of the Boswells.

The Boswells broke boundaries with their intricate harmonies and rhythmic experimentation.

The idea of covering their music came after Joleen stumbled across them on Youtube. The similarities were obvious - three sisters singing close harmonies. Joleen developed a fascination for the three sisters that led to the idea of bringing their music back to life in live performances that recreated their songs as closely as possible.

“I think Joleen has listened to every piece of music they ever recorded,” Karen says. “She stumbled across them and she was just really fascinated by them.”

Joleen McLaughlin became fascinated by the music of the three sisters from New Orleans

Joleen took on the arduous task of listening to the songs and transcribing them into written scores so it could be given to the musicians recruited from Derry’s music scene who would help bring the Boswell music to life.

“For the purposes of having it with the full band - there was no written music - Joleen had to write out every piece of brass, and transcribe all the horn sections,” Karen explains. “She had to listen to it and hear the difference between a clarinet and a saxophone and a trombone and a trumpet. But luckily she came out of it alive.” 

There had not been an intention to record an album of Boswell songs. But Karen says the great reaction from audiences meant a live album was the obvious thing to.

The album was recorded in a big tent at the Earagail Arts Festival in 2019 at a time when the group and the band were really enjoying the music. 

“It is fun to do now but at the beginning, there was so much to remember. There were 20 songs with so many things going on in them. We were trying to do the things the way they did it - we didn’t want to do our own versions of things. That’s not what it was about. It was just about doing what they were doing. But now the band has really settled in and it’s all gelled together. It’s something different to do. It’s a fun thing to do.” 


The Henry Girls and Band release a live album of Boswell Sisters music at An Grianán Theatre, February 7 at 8pm. Tickets are €20 are available at www.thehenrygirls.com. There is a special offer of four for €70. 

 

 

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