Maggie Macdonald

Gaelic singer and teacher

born November 17, 1952

died July 26, 2016

Gaelic singer Maggie Macdonald, who has died aged 63 after a short illness, had one of the Scottish music scene's most distinctive and sweet-toned voices .

Although initially quite shy and more comfortable as a chorister, Maggie gained confidence from winning a solo singing competition while taking part in a Gaelic festival in Vancouver, in Canada, with the Inverness Gaelic Choir in 1991.

She went on three years later to win the Gold Medal at the National Mod, the ultimate endorsement for a Gaelic singer, and became a crucial part of the three-voice frontline in Gaelic band Cliar. Here she gained international recognition alongside fellow singers Mary Ann Kennedy and Arthur Cormack and instrumentalists, fiddler Bruce MacGregor, keyboards player Blair Douglas, and guitarist Chaz Stewart.

Maggie was born in Glasgow. Her father, Alasdair Michie, was a senior detective in the Glasgow Police, and came from a family from Braes on Skye. Through her mother she also belonged to another Skye family, the Campbells from Greepe, one of Gaelic music’s best-known singing families. One of their particular strengths, passed down from generation to generation, is puirt-à-beul, or mouth music, and Maggie became highly skilled at this style of singing.

She sang regularly as a youngster and at seventeen she joined the Glasgow Islay Gaelic Choir. On leaving school she trained as a primary school teacher and continued to sing with the choir.

Then, following a spell away from singing while she and her husband, John ‘Hearach’ Macdonald, brought up their family, she helped to re-form the award-winning Inverness Gaelic Choir.

Singing with the choir helped her, she said, because she felt that she didn’t stand out from everyone else. After her success in Vancouver, however, she had to get used to the idea that she did have an outstanding voice. She entered the National Mod in Airdrie in 1993, reaching the final, and won the Gold Medal for solo singing the following year in Dunoon.

In 1998, along with her cousin, broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy and Arthur Comack, Maggie formed the singing partnership at the heart of Gaelic supergroup Cliar. Many of the songs the band performed were sourced from Maggie’s mother and grandmother and being able to delve into the history behind these songs gave this material added depth.

The group went on to record four albums, winning the Album of the Year title for their first release, Cliar, at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2003, and appeared at festivals and on radio and television at home and abroad.

Maggie also performed with the family project, the Campbells of Greepe, recording two albums. She was the female soloist for Blair Douglas’s ground-breaking Gaelic Mass and a lead soloist in Lasair Dhè, a large-scale work for massed choirs. In 2007 she became the first – and so far only – singer to sing live by satellite from the island of St Kilda when she was the soloist in the Gaelic opera Hiort, which was beamed live across Europe.

As well as singing she was keenly involved in the music teaching organization Feis Rois, teaching Gaelic singing, serving on the board and mentoring teachers who followed in her footsteps. She is survived by her husband, John, children Shona and Fraser and five grandchildren.

Rob Adams