The Kelly Family
The Kelly Family is an Irish-American music group consisting of a multi-generational family, usually nine siblings who were joined occasionally on stage in their earlier years by their parents. They play a repertoire of rock, pop, and folk music, and sing fluently in English, Spanish, German, and Basque. The group had chart and concert success around the world, especially in Germany, the Benelux countries, Scandinavia, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Portugal and some in Ireland. They have sold over 20 million albums since the early 1980s and were ranked as the 6th most popular music act in Germany in the 1990s. Despite their American origins, the group is virtually unknown in the United States.
The Kelly Family
|Genres||Pop, rock, folklore|
|Years active||1974–2008, 2017–present|
|Labels||Kel-Life, EMI, BMG, Ariola, Polydor, Universal|
|Past members||Papa Dan Kelly|
Mama Barbara-Ann Kelly
For many years, the group presented a ragamuffin image and a vagabonding lifestyle, travelling around Europe in a double-decker bus and houseboat. Their image was enhanced by their eclectic and often homemade clothing, and the very long hair worn by both male and female members of the band. The Kelly Family began to break up in 2000 and afterwards they performed mostly as individuals or sub-sets of the whole group and took on a more mainstream look.
The Kelly KidsEdit
The patriarch of the family, Daniel Kelly Sr., has been described as a "grizzled, ageing druid aesthetic", but according to his daughter Kathy he was in earlier days "a clean-cut, intense conservative Catholic" who studied for the priesthood. He married his first wife, Joanne, in 1957, and the couple left their native America in 1965 with their children Daniel Jr., Caroline, Kathleen and Paul, and settled in Spain, where Daniel opened an antiques shop.
Daniel Kelly and Joanne separated, and Joanne returned to America with Daniel Jr., who had a disability. In 1970, Kelly married Barbara Ann Suokko (1946–1982), who was from Fitchburg, Massachusetts and of Finnish and Austrian heritage. Daniel and Barbara had eight children, with the eldest, John, born in 1967, and the youngest, Angelo in 1981. The children were homeschooled and given lessons in music and dance.
In 1974, the older children, Caroline, Daniel, Kathy and Paul, formed the Kelly Kids, at first busking, then performing at parties and local events. They became well-known enough that they appeared on Spanish television in 1975. The band was joined by the younger members of the family as they grew up and learned to play musical instruments. The band's popularity increased in Spain, with several performances on television and in circuses. In 1976, they went on tour as The Kelly Family, in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Their money was stolen during the tour and, penniless, they had to busk on the streets to earn enough for the return trip home.
The family moved to Ireland, living at a campground and touring there in 1977. Then, in 1978, they toured again in their authentic double-decker bus. (They later lived on a large houseboat.) Daniel and Barbara Kelly joined their children for performances, Barbara often performing with a newborn in her arms.
In 1977, they landed a record contract in Germany. Their first major chart hit came in 1980, with the song "Who'll Come With Me (David's Song)", with John Kelly, aged 12, singing the solo. The song, with a Gaelic melody by Vladimir Cosma, was the theme to a German television production The Adventures of David Balfour, based on Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. The song hit #1 in the Netherlands and Belgium, and it reached the top 20 in Germany.
Barbara Kelly died of breast cancer in 1982, shortly after the birth of the youngest child, Angelo. Her last words to her family were "Keep on singing!" The band continued to record, Daniel Kelly having formed his own recording company in 1980. As the older members of the family reached adulthood, Caroline and Paul left the band, Caroline to study nursing and Paul to become a chef. In 1990, Daniel Kelly suffered a stroke, but he remained fairly active in the group through the 1990s.
The Kelly Family covered hit songs such as "We are the World" and "The Rose", but wrote most of their own music based on family and personal experience, their Catholic faith, and their worldview. Songs include "Santa Maria"; "Why, Why, Why"; "An Angel", the video of which popularized a younger family member Paddy; "Break Free", sung by Barby Kelly; the haunting "Mama", in which Barbara Kelly is remembered by her children; and "The Pee Pee Song", in which the common childhood issue of bedwetting is portrayed by the raucous, flaxen haired baby-of-the-family Angelo.
In the 1990s, the group enjoyed their biggest success. Their 1994 album Over the Hump sold more than 2.25 million copies in Germany alone, and 4.5 million copies throughout Europe. In 1995, to promote the album, they played a concert to a Vienna audience of 250,000. In the same year they filled the Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, nine times in a row, a feat no other musician has since accomplished. In 1996 they headlined their first Stadium Tour, filling some of Europe's largest venues. They played in Beijing, China in front of 20,000 people. In 1998 they bought a castle, Schloss Gymnich, on the Erft near Cologne, Germany. About the same time, Adam Kelly, son of Papa Kelly’s younger brother Henry, started performing with his cousins in The Kelly Family. Success continued until they started to disagree on a professional basis at the beginning of the year 2000. In 2002 Papa Kelly died from yet another stroke. That same year the family competed in the German Eurovision Song Contest with the song of Maite Kelly "I wanna be loved" and placed fourth.
In 2002, Barby's ongoing illness forced her retirement from the band and, to the disappointment of his fans, Paddy cut his long hair and joined a religious order in France. Members of the family continued to perform as soloists or together, or in combination with their partners, as both Jimmy and John married singers. Fan interest prompted a comeback with gigs in Germany in 2007.
In 2011, the 12 Kelly siblings were reported as living in Ireland, Germany, the United States, Spain, and Belgium.
Controversies and issuesEdit
The Kelly Family has faced criticism and problems. Although singing predominantly in English, the group had little success in the English-speaking world and aroused the derision of critics. Der Spiegel called them a "singing second-hand clothes collection" and Die Zeit called them a cult.
The father, Daniel Kelly, was described, allegedly by his children, as having a "tyrannical, controlling streak". The most outspoken sibling, Jimmy, has criticized his father for not giving his children a formal education and imposing on them a "Huckleberry Finn" lifestyle. Moreover, he explained that as The Kelly Family group began to dissolve, there was almost nothing left of the millions of dollars the family had earned. The oldest daughter, Kathy, who managed most of the finances of the family, said that Daniel was more "free spirit than tyrant" but that "we got too big too fast, we should have cut things down some or handed over to professional management."
Dan Kelly taught his children to "always keep independent of the structures of the modern entertainment industry." He formed his own record label and "the Kellys kept everything in the family, from copyright and bookings to promotion and money matters."
The Kellys ran into tax issues in Germany, the "Dan Kelly Foundation" was discovered not to be a registered charity, and they were criticized for their lack of transparency in accounting for money raised for an AIDS charity.
In 2021, Angelo was fined €3,000 by German authorities after his son William performed briefly with him on-stage at an evening concert, in contravention of German labour laws which prohibit children aged under 7 from performing outside the hours of 08:00 to 17:00.
|Daniel Jerome Sr. ("Dan")||11 October 1930||Erie, Pennsylvania, US||Father and leader of the Kelly Family. Died, 5 August 2002, Cologne, Germany|
|Joanne||?||?||Married Dan in 1957 and mother of Danny, Caroline, Kathy, and Paul. Went to Spain with Dan about 1965, but returned to US after they divorced. She was still on good terms with the eldest sons. She died just before Christmas in 2018.|
|Barbara Ann||2 June 1946||Fitchburg, Massachusetts US||"Mama" of the Kelly Family. Eight children with Dan. Died of cancer, 10 November 1982, Belascoain, Spain|
|Daniel Jerome Jr. ("Danny")||1957||Leominster Massachusetts, US||Performed with the Kelly Kids in the 1970s. Left the family with an uncle and Caroline in 1982. In 2011 reported to be resident in a home for autistic people. Died in 2017 |
|Caroline||20 July 1959||Leominster Massachusetts, US||Performed with the Kelly Kids and The Kelly Family in the 1970s; participated occasionally thereafter. In 2011 was working as a nurse in the United States. Married, no children|
|Kathleen Ann ("Kathy")||6 March 1961||Leominster, Massachusetts, US||Studied ballet and violin; leader and producer of The Kelly Family after Dan became infirm. Frequent lead singer with operatic alto voice. Became a solo artist in 2000, but continued to participate in Kelly family tours and activities. Divorced with one son, Sean|
|Paul||16 March 1964||Leominster, Massachusetts, US||One of the Kelly Kids in the 1970s, Quit in 1984 to become a professional cook. Rejoined Kelly Family as an opening act between 1990 and 1992. Became a session musician in 2004 and rejoined officially in 2005. Married to Muriel, six sons Clement, Coco (Sean), Patrick, Yannick, Daniel, Michael and a daughter Brenda.|
|John Michael ("Johnny")||8 March 1967||Talavera de la Reina, Spain||The oldest male who performed regularly with the Kellys, he was the lead singer on many songs, and the favorite of young women fans early in the history of the group. In 2001, he married Maite (née Itoiz, b. 27 January 1975), a Spanish opera singer. No children. In 2011 Maite and Johnny were performing together in Europe, focusing on rock-opera and medieval music.|
|Maria Patricia ("Patricia")||25 November 1969||Gamonal, Spain||Married to Denis Sawinkin (b. 19 February 1973), two sons Alexander Joseph and Ignatius Aaron Maria|
|James Victor ("Jimmy")||18 February 1971||Gamonal, Spain||Married to Maike (née Höchst, b. 3 November 1980), two daughters Aimee Benedicta Maria and Máire Therese Seraphine, and a son, Yeshua Fulton James Kelly, born Tuesday, 3 March 2015. Jimmy was known as the rebel of the family, became involved in drugs and alcohol, and later joined a monastery briefly. In 2011, he was touring in Europe and recording.|
|Joseph Maria ("Joey")||20 December 1972||Toledo, Spain||Married to Tanja (née Niethen, b. 25 January 1973), has two sons Luke Christopher and Leon Daniel and two daughters Lilian Ann and Lisann. After the band broke up he became an athlete|
|Barbara Ann ("Barby")||28 April 1975||Belascoáin, Spain||Named after her mother. Left the band in 2002, due to illness; later rejoined (studio albums only). Died 15 April 2021.|
|Michael Patrick ("Paddy")||5 December 1977||Dublin, Ireland||Left band in early 2004, to study theology. He joined the Saint-John community where he was a monk, and took the name John Paul Mary. He recently quit the monastery and by late 2011 had returned to music-making. On 13 April 2013 Paddy married Joelle Vereet at Ballintubber Abbey in Ireland.|
|Maite Star||4 December 1979||West Berlin||Married to Florent Raimond (b. 5 January 1975), has three daughters Agnes Therese Barbara, Josephine Katherine Francoise and Solene|
|Angelo Kelly||23 December 1981||Pamplona, Spain||Married to Kira (née Harms, b. 7 October 1979), has three sons and two daughters: Gabriel Jerome, Helen Josephine, Emma Maria, Joseph Ewan Gregory Walter and William Emanuel Left in 2020 to concentrate on his family band, Angelo Kelly & Family|
For the solo recordings of the individual members, see Solo Recordings.
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- Peter Wendling, Die Kelly Family, die Geschichte einer Supergruppe, Goldmann 1995 (German Book)
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