Mary Frances Leahy Bids You A Happy Cheerio

The second-generation fiddler follows her own path on her upbeat new single.

Mary Frances Leahy welcomes you with a happy Cheerio on her sophomore solo single — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

The second preview of the 18-year-old fiddling scion’s upcoming debut album First Light, Cheerio has a traditional Celtic jauntiness that veers into another realm, thanks to its poppy melody, driving jazz-funk arrangement and Latin-tinged percussion track — all topped by Leahy’s melodic yet scrappy playing.

It’s not alone. First Light’s nine original instrumentals are ironclad proof that composer/multi-instrumentalist Leahy has carved out a wholly unique and captivating musical identity that rings as natural to the ear as it might look peculiar on paper.

It helps that music is literally in her DNA. The oldest of seven children born to Canadian Celtic-music legends Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Mary Frances has been performing with them since age five, playing an estimated 600 shows throughout Canada and the U.S. together. So it’s not entirely surprising that her emergence as a solo artist came via a little parental encouragement.

“When I hit 14 or 15, I started listening to and writing a lot of music,” she says. “I would sit at the piano and just play for an hour without stopping. It actually drove me nuts, because my mom would hide in the next room or at the top of the stairs with a recording device and tape everything I played. She always said ‘You have to do something with all of this!’ ”

It was the 2020 pandemic, she says, that gave her the time and opportunity: “My parents purchased a recording studio, and all of a sudden I had a musical playground right down the hall from my bedroom! Recording an album seemed very natural given the circumstances, and so it began.”

To bring her brainchild to life, she enlisted Elmer Ferrer as co-producer and arranger. He also played guitar and tres and did digital programming, joining a core ensemble that was rounded out by Rosendo “Chendy” Leon on percussion and Mark Kelso on drums. Remi Arsenault plays bass on Cheerio and four other tracks and guitar on yet another. No slouch herself, Leahy says she relished the opportunity to work with top-shelf talents, who “always push you to be better than you thought you could be. Great musicians inspire the ear and direct your musicality in new ways.”

Even before Leahy’s solo career had left the launching pad, she compiled an impressive list of accomplishments — including a piano performance alongside the great Yo-Yo Ma on her parents’ latest release Canvas, which also features two of her compositions (Choo Choo and Colour Theory). She’s performed on Little Big Shots with Steve Harvey, the Carmen Nebel TV show in Germany and the special A Celtic Family Christmas. She recently come out in top in a recent Cape Breton Tourism music contest; her winning entry ended up as the title track to her new album.

As a dancer specializing in the Ottawa Valley/Cape Breton styles, she was seen performing atop a white grand piano for a 2021 Canada Day special, and has also taught multiple workshops. And in the past year alone, she’s had the opportunity to perform with Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas, as well as arrange and record fiddle for BBC musician of the year Tim Edey.

With her eyes set squarely on the future, she’s determined to further her development as a musician and performing artist. She spends an average of seven hours per day practising on her various instruments, not counting her private jazz piano lessons. She’s also enrolled in a Latin-style piano course through the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is learning the fine arts of orchestration at Humber College in Toronto.

Her main focus, though, is on the labour of love that is her new album, and the very real shot it represents at making her the next big thing among listeners who might be hearing a fiddle for the very first time — or at least as they’ve never heard one before. “If I had to describe the album, I would say it’s a salad,” she muses. “It’s a mixture of many odd things which, put together, create something delicious.”

Check out Cheerio above, hear more from Mary Frances Leahy below and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.