Tony Cummings spoke to County Tyrone's Celtic Lady DONNA TAGGART
It was in 2016 that a then-unknown primary school teacher from County Tyrone became an international singing star, for it was that year that 27 million Facebook viewers logged in to see and hear Donna Taggart's haunting rendition of a country gospel song "Jealous Of The Angels". Now that song, coupled with "Guiding Light", the haunting song written by Irish singer/songwriter Foy Vance and originally recorded by Ed Sheeran, is being released on 1st June as a double A side single.
One thing is certain, Donna's popularity isn't going to disappear any time soon, and with countless millions of hits across all social media platforms, this charming Catholic Christian is taking her Celtic-styled balladry to a vast new audience.
Donna spoke to Cross Rhythms about her early life. "I come from a very rural place in Northern Ireland. My childhood was quite quiet, one of five sisters - the eldest. Family life and home life, coming from a rural place in Northern Ireland, was I suppose quite ideal and simplistic. Music was very much part and parcel of my upbringing as well. Your relationship with God is something that is very personal. It's one that grows as we develop. That relationship cannot be fostered or nurtured by just going to church, you have to get to know God if you like. I suppose that relationship has been nurtured, church has been a part of that, but I think more than church, life, your experiences in life and having that faith and connection, leaning on a higher force, which I believe is God. That has been what has nurtured my faith and my bond with God."
Donna always knew that she had a fine singing voice, and sang in the choir, but she had her sights set on becoming a teacher and working with children. She recounted, "I trained as a teacher at Liverpool Hope University back in 2004-2007. I entered the caring profession, for five years I worked within the realms of domestic violence, with children and young people effected by domestic violence. I then worked in the field of autism and worked with children on the autistic spectrum for five years. So the showbiz industry, or a career in music, wasn't a path which I deliberately set about doing. I recorded my album, but had never envisaged a full-time career as a singer."
The album Donna spoke about was 'Celtic Lady Vol 1', released on 15th July 2011. The project was entirely self-funded. It was recorded in a small studio outside Porth Ferry, with producer Steven Smith. Donna's renditions of evergreens like "Danny Boy" and "She Moved Through The Fair" created some interest in Northern Ireland, but it was 'Celtic Lady Vol 2', produced by Paul McCready in Ballymena, which proved to be Donna's breakthrough recording. "Jealous Of The Angels" was composed by Nashville's Jenn Bostic and Jenn's rendition of the song, featured on her 'Jealous' album, was a success in the US and got airplay in Northern Ireland.
Donna explained, "I had heard it played on the radio and it instantly made a connection with me. I reached out to Jen and I told her how much I loved the song, and that I was thinking about recording it. So we had quite a bit of communication, backwards and forwards, in the four years between me recording it and the huge success that I had with the song back in 2016 and to date. Jen has actually been over and she has toured with me in Ireland. It's a song that she wrote after she lost her father, but just like Jen, we all have our own experience of grief and loss. The song is one which has, you know, it means a lot to a lot of people and certainly the words and the lyrics are ones that have connected with a lot of people."
Now Donna's "Guiding Light" is being tipped by some as the next Taggart mega-hit. Said Donna, "I have just started writing my own material but I would very much put myself as a singer, more so than a songwriter. It took me some time to officially record a song as a followup to 'Jealous Of The Angels'. Given the momentum and the success that it has had, there was a bit of pressure that the next single had to be good. I did not want to rush that; like anything that I do, it's very important that I feel a connection with a song, that I feel it myself. When I heard the song 'Guiding Light', which was written by Northern Irish songwriter Foy Vance, it felt very appropriate. It is a song that can be interpreted in different ways, but very much talks about us being a guiding light and that can again be interpreted. In times of need, in difficult and challenging times, irrespective of what we're going through, we can all be a guiding light to others. That is the type of song that I like to sing and I connect with and I also believe my audience connects with. But first and foremost I have to feel it, I have to have belief in the song, in the lyrics and I have to connect with them myself. That was the reasoning behind choosing that song and we have Omagh Youth Choir, which is my home choir. They're also featuring on the single which is very special."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.