Cathy Richardson grew up in the western Chicago suburbs of Burr Ridge, Illinois and graduated from nearby Hinsdale Central High School. Before she began her music career, Richardson worked as a cashier and an auto mechanic in her father’s gas station. In 1990 she started her music career full-time. Notre Dame fans may not recognize Cathy Richardson’s name, but they will most definitely recognize her song, “Here Come the Irish” which has been played at countless pep rallies, athletic games and university events. After spending some time in New York City and San Francisco, Richardson is back in Illinois raising her 16-month-old daughter
Q: How did you first become interested in music? Was it something you knew you’d always pursue?
A: “My mom was a singer and there was always music in our house. We had a piano that she played and sang along to, and encouraged us to sing along as well. From a very young age I got a lot of positive feedback on my voice. From the age of four people were telling me, ‘wow, you have a great voice.’ I liked the attention and decided that I wanted to pursue a singing career. As I got older, I picked up the piano and the guitar, both of which I play by ear — I picked up the flute in the school band and play that by ear as well. I also had music instruction through choir, both at our church and in my school.”
Q: I know you just got back from your European Tour with Jefferson Starship. What is it like following in Grace Slick’s footsteps and being Jefferson Starship’s lead singer?
A: “An absolute blast – it’s really, really fun. I was such a huge fan of Jefferson Starship when I was growing up so it was really a natural fit for me to jump in. Jefferson Starship is such a great showcase for me, for my voice and for performing – definitely some I never imagined would happen to me – it’s perfect. For my stage persona, throughout the years in my bands I’ve always stood behind the microphone, sang and played the guitar.”
“In this band all I have to do is sing, so it gives me an opportunity to “perform” a bit. It’s been fun to discover new parts of performing without having to be stationary and standing behind the microphone. I’ve incorporated some of Grace’s weirdness on stage but they keep asking me to do more and be weirder. It’s really been a great experience.”
Q: How did you get introduced to Notre Dame and asked to sing John Scully’s song “Here Come the Irish” song which appeared on The O’Neill Brothers CD?
A: “John Scully (Notre Dame center, 1977-1980) and Jim Tullio wrote the song together. Jim was a (Grammy Award winning) producer friend of mine that I had worked with in Chicago. John had written this beautiful song about Notre Dame and he and Jim just hired me to sing it. At the time (1997) I was doing a lot of commercial recording sessions. People would write songs and then would hire me to sing them. That’s how I got involved on the “Here Come the Irish” project; I was hired as a session singer. After we recorded it I never really heard anything about it and then 10 years later I got a call from the school. They said, ‘Do you have any idea how popular this song is?’ and I had absolutely no idea.”
“They asked me to come and sing it at a basketball pep rally and it was an incredible experience. I felt like I was the Notre Dame “Beatles.” The response that I got from the audience literally blew me away. I started going to the school and doing performances at special events. You don’t have to be affiliated with the school to be affected that way. I know for people who go to Notre Dame, the way that they feel about the school is different from how most people feel about their college or university. It’s just different — I can’t put it into words. It’s more than just pride, it’s a spiritual thing. Music transcends those sorts of titles and boxes that we put ourselves into because I’m not a Notre Dame graduate or Catholic and I still can feel the impact of the Notre Dame spirit.”
Here Come the Irish of Notre Dame:
Q: You also sang another John Scully song “Our Lady of the Lake.” What about Notre Dame draws you to it?
A: “The school asked John to write a song that dealt more with the spiritual feeling of the Notre Dame and was less of a “rah-rah” song, something more deep and spiritual. The first song was more of an anthem. “Our Lady of the Lake” is more of a spiritual description of the school. I’ve sung it at a couple of events, but we debuted the song at the NYC pep rally for the Notre Dame/Army game in 2011 outside of Lincoln Center. Another amazing experience.”
Our Lady of the Lake:
Q: What is your favorite song to perform live?
A: “That changes from day-to-day. Performing live is such an in the moment thing. When I sing with Jefferson Starship the set changes a lot. Certain songs are more fun to sing for different reasons. When my voice is really on and in a good place there is a song called “Hyperdrive” that is really fun. But if I’m really tired that song is really hard to sing. It depends on the day, how rested I am and how into it the audience is.”
Q: What Was it Like performing in “Love, Janis” in New York, Chicago and San Francisco?
A: “Performing in “Love, Janis” was awesome. It was so many different things for me. The New York City run was the longest (a year and a half) and a lot happened while we were there. We were there in 2001, and were in New York City on September 11th and that is something I will never forget. While performing in the New York City run I went from being this sort of locally recognized bar star to being under the New York, Off Broadway, national spotlight. A lot of celebrities came to see the show, and it was a huge growth period for me both as a performer and as a person.”
“When I left the show in New York City I thought I was done with Janis and that I’d never do it again. Seven years later they called me and asked me if I wanted to do a run in San Francisco. I had come full circle between my time in New York City and my time in San Francisco, but the show was such a great fit for me that I couldn’t say no.”
“When I went to New York City to do the show Off Broadway I had dreams of getting signed to a major label and becoming rich and famous, and it really looked to me as if I was headed that way. I had a meeting with the VP of a major record label and I was headed there on the morning of September 11, 2001 when the world as we knew it changed all in an instant. After that, the whole world changed. Record companies were not hiring talent. The VP that I had the meeting with got fired and so did the entire rock department of that label. New York City pretty much kicked my ass in a way that I was not expecting. When I went home to Illinois, everything that I thought I wanted to do in my life and my career had changed. I sat down and reevaluated what I wanted out of life. ‘God is trying to tell me something here’, I thought. I decided that I wasn’t going to pursue that big rock star career path anymore and that I was just going to do good work. I gave up on the fame pursuit and just tried to be great in everything that I did.”
“So when I went to San Francisco to do “Love, Janis” I just wanted to do good work. I didn’t care about the reviews. And the funny thing is the reviews I got in San Francisco were even better than from the show in New York City. All of Janis’ friends came to the show and they were crying and said to me that my performance had taken them back to that time. The whole journey was just amazing.”
“The show was going so great that I decided to move to San Francisco. Five days later, the show was closed. Once again, my world was turned upside down. I thought to myself, I have enough money to survive for a year, let’s try this. That was when Big Brother had reached out to me to sing with them on the 40th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” tour. That’s where I met Jefferson Starship. At the end of that tour their singer who had been with them for 13 years quit and they asked me if I’d like to join the band and that’s just what I did. We went into the studio the next year and recorded an album and I’ve been with them ever since. That’s the fun thing about life: if you stick around long enough, things happen.”
“Love, Janis” preview:
Q: What is next for Cathy Richardson?
A: “I think that next year there will be more Jefferson Starship. I have a project called the Macrodots and my friend Zack and I are writing materials for a second Macrodots release. I am hoping to be able to go over to Europe and tour as my own artist, as the Cathy Richardson Band, and take advantage of the fans I’m making with Jefferson Starship. I know that it won’t last forever and I have to think about what happens when Jefferson Starship comes to an end. What I’m trying to do now is pave the way towards continuing to do my own thing down the road.”
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to get into the music business?
A: “The music business is a lot of different things, and there are varying degrees of success. You can make a living, you can be successful, or you can go to the top. If you want to have a career in music, it’s absolutely possible and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. I believed in myself and said this is what I am going to do with my life and I wouldn’t stop until I got there. And as long as you’re doing what you love and what you want to do, you are successful as far as I’m concerned. If you believe in yourself and have a single-minded focus, ‘this is what I want to do with my life’ and point yourself in that direction you will get to where you want to be. You say what, and the universe will say how, there is no one direction, it’s a big journey. The point where you are is the only thing that is real, everything else is imaginary. I didn’t end up where I thought I would, but I look at my collective career and think, ‘Holy crap, I did a lot and am doing a lot.’ That was my biggest lesson — it was not this pie in the sky out there dream, I was out there doing it the whole time.”
A big thank you to Cathy Richardson for stopping by the blog and sharing her story. The “Where are they Now?” blog series will resume in two weeks with more of your Notre Dame football favorites!