Finding US stardom with her recording of Jealous of the Angels, there’s no stopping the Omagh singer Donna Taggart
by Michael McDonagh
Anyone seeing thirty-one year old Omagh mother of two Donna Taggart on the daily school run, in all weather, would never know that there is something quite exceptional about her. She happens to have a worldwide fan base. Over 100 million people have been moved by her video singing Jealous Of The Angels after it first appeared on Donna’s Facebook page in 2016.
Donna had never actually sang in public until she was 22 but was slowly gaining critical acclaim in Ireland after she released her debut album Celtic Lady Vol 1 in 2011.
That album included the Jimmy McCarthy song Bright Blue Rose, previously covered by Christy Moore and Mary Black. BBC Northern Ireland presenter Gerry Anderson picked it up and played it on his show which brought her to a much wider local audience. At the time Donna was working as the Child Services Co-ordinator with the Western Health Trust in Omagh.
It was her second album which included Jealous of the Angels. Her heartfelt video performance drawing on her own tragic personal experience of losing a child at birth in 2014 tugged the heartstrings of millions, making the song an unofficial anthem for the bereaved. People across the globe connected with her beautiful voice and American Country singer songwriter Jenn Bostic’s emotional lyrics. Bostic had been inspired to write it when her own father had died in a traffic accident when taking her to school.
Listen to Jenn Bostic’s original here:
Donna’s YouTube video gets messages from people who have lost loved ones in all kinds of circumstances even in the terrorist attacks in New York, Nice, Paris and Manchester, telling her they find comfort in her version of the song which topped various charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA, the UK and South Africa.
Her album made No 1 on the Billboard World Music Catalogue Album Chart, a remarkable achievement for somebody hardly known in Ireland.
Did the huge viral success of Jealous of the Angels come as a surprise to you?
“Absolutely. I knew instantly that it was a very special song and I knew it was something that would suit my voice and I recorded it but never ever did I imagine that it would reach the numbers that it did or have the success that it did.
“It almost became an anthem I suppose. For any artiste to achieve that, whether you are Miranda Lambert or any of them would give anything to achieve what we have done with that song. Never mind somebody in my position, who was completely unknown.
“Of course it was a huge surprise and it took me some time for it to sink in, the magnitude of what we did with that song. On the other hand, I knew that it was special song and that it was song that people would connect with. How did you come across the song?
“I had heard it on the radio. Terry Wogan had played Jenn Bostic’s version. Jenn wrote the song working with Barrett Yeretsian and she wrote it from her own personal perspective of losing her father, who had died in a car crash.
“I contacted Jenn sometime after I had recorded the song and what was a lovely thing was that she was a singer and songwriter and what we have been able to do, through recording her song, is form a close personal friendship.
“When the video went viral she was one of the first people to get in touch, so when we were doing a tour, after it had come out, I invited her to come over and to join us. I thought it was an important thing for us to sing it together but it is my sister Sinead who sings backing vocals on the video.”
How has it affected your career as a singer and concert performer? Is it an Albatross?
“No – that song has introduced me to people and I find that from listening to me performing that song people want to hear me singing others.
“I have another song called Mum which has done very well for me and has racked up a couple of million hits on YouTube as well. People come up to me and ask about it or ask me to sing it at concerts. Even Daniel O’Donnell said he was a big fan of it and asked me how long had I had it out or would it be my next release but I told him it had been out for four years.
“That song Jealous Of The Angels put me on a global and international platform”.
So just how many hits did it actually get?
“On social media on my video, which I uploaded, there’s been 125 million hits and there are three other platforms that have it up – and they have had 10 million each.
“Then YouTube has another 10 million, so I suppose that’s about 150 to 160 million people that have viewed me singing it. At the time it went viral my album went on to the Billboard World Music Catalogue Album Chart, which was absolutely huge and it still has legs to it yet.”
Many people think that hits on a video always translate into lots of money but that is not always the case. What did it bring to you?
“It brought me a bit of time but it was no fortune at all. Like most families, I was working and managing a tight family budget, you are working 9-5 and you need the pay cheque at the end of the month.
“What that song did was give me time to take the opportunity and to buy some time to take a year out to allow me to develop and progress and to record more songs and to tour.
“For that I am very, very grateful. So, it has opened doors and of course it has helped the box office for my concerts.”
You did not sing in public until you were 22 so how did your career begin?
“I was quite a shy young person and shy child. I knew that I had a voice but I never really had the belief that I could carve out a career in music. As well as having talent you have to have confidence and belief. That was lacking for some time and it was not until I was asked to sing at a funeral when I was 22 and then after that the phone was going for all these local things and I suppose it was baby steps. From that I recorded my first album Celtic Lady Volume 1.
Surely calling your first album Volume 1 shows a certain confidence for the future?
“Well I don’t know why I did it but I thought it was good and people had a thirst for it and maybe at that time it was a turning point in my thinking and my belief.”
How do you select your repertoire?
“People ask me how I pick my songs but I have to feel it and they have to hit me right away. If I can’t connect with a song or if they don’t resonate with me then it is a waste of time for me as an artiste.
“I am always led by my gut and my intuition and you have to be yourself and you have to know your own strengths. It can’t be a copycat version of anything else. You have to be your own person and at the back of my mind I’m not thinking is this song going to be a hit record but more does this song suit me, do I feel this song, do I connect with this song. If the answer is ‘yes’ then I know that I can stand over it with integrity, that is very important to me.”
Do you write songs yourself?
“I have started writing, just before Christmas I started to put pen to paper and now have a number of songs but again prior to becoming a musician and a singer full time. It is an art in itself and I am very much a singer and an interpreter of songs and did not see myself as a writer.
“I have had a lot of success in recent years interpreting these songs but now that I have some time to concentrate on my career I’ve started to write. I am a woman in my 30s, I have worked in the field of domestic violence, I have worked in the NHS and dealt with autistic children and now have two children of my own so I now have life experience behind me and that is good to have, if you are to write good songs. It takes time.”
When were you able to take up singing full time?
“I was working until two years ago as it is difficult to carve a living out of music and for many years people think of me as an overnight success, even Daniel O’Donnell said it to me last night at his TV show.
“I have been recording for a long time doing it now for eight years and at first you have to work two jobs or even three jobs.
“In that time I have had a young family and was working in the Health Service and none of that has done me any harm.
“Also when people meet you and you are able to talk to them about your work in that field it gives them a very personal connection that you are very real and understand many of the personal challenges that people are going through in life. You can bring that to them.
Will this be the first time you have toured Britain?
“Yes and for me it is a big UK tour from the 6 June with 11 dates over 12 nights and will be pretty intense in my eyes. We are organising it all ourselves. I feel very privileged to be doing it and am looking forward to it. I suppose I am only really 18 months in the business and there have been a lot of learning curves, lots of highs and like any business we are learning a lot.
Do you do your shows solo?
“No I have a band with me from Dublin lead by Eugene McCarthy, who has worked with Dickie Rock and Red Hurley”
What are your plans for the future?
“I don’t usually think too far ahead but my focus now is on the UK tour and I am looking forward to meeting and having good relations with people in the UK, who have been listening to my music for some time.
“Many of them have written to me or been in contact, so it will be good to meet for the first time.
“I’ll do my best and put my best foot forward and then after I will release some new music and as I have said I have been writing new songs and will put all that together.”
Doing it all by yourself as an independent must be hard?
“When it all took off and it all went a bit crazy and there were lots of offers and people suggesting things but it was not the time to be putting pen to paper and signing some deal we may come to regret.
“Now, maybe, it would be good to have some muscle behind us, like a big record Through recording Jennifer Bostic’s song we’ve been able form a close personal friendship.
“Doing it all ourselves, as well as concentrating on the music, takes a lot of time. We have been doing very well at home but we have half a million followers online and America is so important. I have lined up my ducks now so maybe the time is right.