ROAMER: Sensational singing siblings - the Kelly Family

Patricia Kelly
Patricia Kelly

Back in August 2015 a reader asked Roamer “have you heard of the Kelly Family Singers?”

I hadn’t!

“They were very big in Germany” Roamer was then told “and they came from Ireland.”

Some hasty research revealed that there were 12 Kelly children, nine of them accomplished musicians and singers, whose father Daniel (Dan) Jerome Kelly was born in Michigan in 1930.

Dan’s grandparents immigrated to Pennsylvania from west Cork during the famine.

Thereafter, travelling and relocating was a prominent Kelly-family trait.

So was music!

As the family grew bigger - and after moving to Spain, to Ireland, back to Spain, to Italy, to the Netherlands, to Germany - the Kelly Family Singers became megastars, topping the European music charts in the 1990s….and travelling tirelessly to concert halls, recording studios and television stations.

Yet they remained virtually unnoticed in Ireland, certainly in Ulster.

In 1992 German fans bought 2.5 million copies of ABBA’s Greatest Hits, a remarkable total for the Swedish foursome.

Yet in 1994 the Kelly Family almost equalled ABBA’s success in Germany where they sold 2.25 million copies of their record called Over the Hump and got nine golden album awards for it.

When they were mentioned on this page last year a News Letter reader from Germany, now living here, remembered them being “household names…constantly singing on Germany’s favourite television shows.”

Now aged from their mid-30s to their mid-50s (sadly, Dan died and was buried in Cork in 2002) they live with their own families in the United States, Germany and Ireland.

“I’m smack in the middle,” 46-year-old Patricia Kelly told me this week on her phone, “I’m number six in the family!”

Patricia is a singer/songwriter and former manager of the sensational singing siblings who sold out countless stadiums, the biggest in Vienna in the mid-1990s was packed with 250,000 enthusiastic fans.

They made worldwide TV performances, recorded number one hits, received almost 50 gold and platinum records, and claimed nearly every musical trophy and prize available.

Patricia says that her life was “determined by hard times and strokes of fate.”

A singing trip to Italy in 1976 unexpectedly turned into the start of their first extended European tour.

While Dan showed his children around Rome, the family minibus was broken into and looted by thieves.

To recoup their losses they sang on the streets.

Passers-by stopped in amazement to listen, and the collecting-basket quickly filled up!

Dan told his children “our life has changed!”

They proceeded to busk through Austria, Germany and the Netherlands and in 1977, back in Germany, a music producer discovered them singing on a footpath and offered them their first record contract.

Their mother, Barbara Ann, contracted breast cancer in 1981, and the family returned to Spain.

A year later Barbara Ann died after making a last wish for her children - “Keep on singing.”

“A promise to be fulfilled,” said Patricia, who’s travelling from her Dusseldorf home to Arklow’s Bay Hotel for a concert on March 10.

Patricia is a successful solo-artist with three albums and numerous bookings for festivals and events, public, corporate and private.

Born in Spain in 1969, she envied her elder brothers’ and sisters’ concert tours.

“At five years old I wanted to go on the road,” Patricia told Roamer, “I cried, I wanted to go on tour. I persisted!”

Considering her too young to be an itinerant musician, her father Dan proffered what he thought was an impossible challenge - to learn all the Kelly Family songs, and several musical instruments - in two weeks!

She did, thus ‘qualifying’ for her first tour.

“I’ve got an Irish thick-headedness deep inside,” she laughed on the phone.

And she’s still touring, with about 60 concerts a year.

Her Arklow concert is called Favourites, a programme of songs chosen via e-mail by her worldwide fans.

“The old hits and the new ones, all mixed up,” she told Roamer, “the Favourites from my last seven tours.”

Very happily married for 16 years to Belgian IT manager Denis she joyfully explained “I found my prince!”

They’ve two teenage children, whose lifestyle contrasts greatly with the Kellys’ when Patricia was their age.

In 1990 Dan had a stroke and was paralysed down his right side and bedridden.

Patricia and her brothers and sisters ‘kept the show on the road’ and went on tour without their father for the first time.

“Thanks to his iron discipline,” she recounted, “father got back on his feet!”

Dan appeared with them for the first time since his illness in 1994 in Dortmund - in front of 16,000 people!

Their album Over the Hump later that year sealed their success - a major step into stardom.

It sold over four and a half million copies worldwide!

In Arklow for her Favourites concert Patricia will be accompanied by pianist Sebastian Scobel who is flying in from Denmark for the gig.

Her fans have chosen her repertoire “but maybe I will secretly add one or two of my own favourites,” she said with a wink that was almost audible on the phone!

Proceeds from the concert are going to a breast cancer charity that Patricia supports.

The concert is in the Arklow Bay Hotel, Co Wicklow, on March 10 at 7pm (doors open 6pm). Tickets are available by phone on 00353 86 4013473, by email on or from the hotel reception.