Donna Taggart used social media to crack America

Donna Taggart has used social media to crack the US easy listening charts, writes Ellie O’Byrne
Donna Taggart used social media to crack America

EASY listening star Donna Taggart is taking lots of deep breaths these days.

Catapulted towards fame by the phenomenal success of her single, ‘Jealous of the Angels’, the video of which has attracted 58 million views on her Facebook page and 1.7 million views on YouTube, she’s still having plenty of ‘pinch yourself’ moments since the video went viral in August.

“It’s brilliant, but I’m still dealing with the shock and surprise of it, and all the opportunities and the doors that have opened since it happened,” she says. “It’s taking some getting used to.”

And what opportunities: TV appearances, a series of guest appearances on Phil Coulter’s nationwide tour, and her first national solo tour, which will open in the National Concert Hall in February. And all without so much as a sniff at a deal with a record label.

“It’s one of the brilliant things about social media, that it gives you a platform to let people decide if they like what they hear,” Taggart says. “But because it’s social media and you’re communicating with a phone, you’re not in a room with the fans and I think that makes it feel even more surreal.”

The reason for the song’s phenomenal success, on Facebook in particular, is evident when you look at the comment threads associated with it: people are sharing it with friends who have suffered a bereavement, or to commemorate a loss of their own. Written by American country singer Jenn Bostic following the death of her father, it’s consoling, uplifting and full of references to the divine. Lyrics include: “It’s not my place to question, only God knows why/ I’m just jealous of the angels around the throne tonight.”

Taggart wanted to record the song as soon as she heard it. “The lyrics are indicative of how a lot of people feel when they lose someone and they’re grieving,” she says. “When you’re in the throes of grief, sometimes it’s very difficult to put that pain into words and I think that song does that for a lot of people.”

Growing up in Omagh, Co Tyrone, it was Taggart’s sister that was the natural performer in her family. An invitation to sing at a funeral at 22 was a turning point for Taggart, and led to her performing and recording two albums, Celtic Lady volumes one and two.

The easy listening label sits comfortably with 31-year-old Taggart, and she responds with a smile to mild teasing about a genre of music that attracts an older, Christian-leaning audience: is she the new Dana?

She laughs. “I love Dana but I’m very much myself as well,” she says. “You can’t aspire to be somebody else; you have to bring your own personality. Mary Black is a huge icon for me. My influences are Mary, Eva Cassidy, Alison Krauss; I love country music as well.”

The international appeal of music with Celtic roots is phenomenal; the international Billboard World Music chart, which Taggart topped for three successive weeks in October, is riddled with Celtic references: Celtic Woman, Celtic Thunder, Celtic Collection.

The success of acts like these in the US, Canada and Australia, where Taggart has enjoyed iTunes chart successes, is linked to the Irish diaspora and a nostalgia for home.

Having lived in San Francisco and Liverpool, Taggart understands the draw: “It’s when you’re away from home that you really grasp onto your roots. You’re going to Irish bars and listening to Irish music even more than you would if you were at home; you just get a different appreciation for it.”

The mother of two has been married for five years and her second child, Matthew, is just 10 months old; she was on maternity leave when the storm of success hit. Juggling the demands of family and her burgeoning career, Taggart is very clear on where her priority lies.

“As the opportunities are happening I’m weighing them up individually and asking if fits with family life. If it doesn’t, or it keeps me away from home for too long, I don’t take it,” she says.

  • ‘Jealous of the Angels’ is out now. Donna Taggart plays the Nationa l Concert Hall in Dublin on Feb 17

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