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Belfast-born Northern Irish singer/songwriter Brian Kennedy came to prominence as a member of fellow Belfast man Van Morrison's touring band, using the springboard for a solo career that would win him admirers as varied as Bill Clinton, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles. Like Van Morrison, Kennedy's influences have varied widely, from the singer/songwriters of the '70s, including Joni Mitchell and Morrison himself, to the traditional Celtic balladry for which he has become renowned. He has represented Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest, sung specially written songs by Grammy winner Bill Whelan as part of the Riverdance tour, and performed at the funeral of Northern Irish sporting hero George Best, an event that united both sides of the nationalist conflict in the country in which he was raised.
Brian Kennedy was born in Belfast in 1966 and grew up on the notorious Falls Road, in the midst of the inter-religious conflict that gripped the country during his childhood. Kennedy dealt with the violence that surrounded him by turning inward, to the point where he jokes about learning to sing by harmonizing with fire truck and ambulance sirens. Aged 18, Kennedy left his troubled home and moved to London with his brother and his band. Eventually, he moved out on his own and, rather than working the building sites like many Irish, he secured a job in a piano bar singing Gershwin. His hard work eventually earned him a solo recording deal with RCA, which released his debut album, The Great War of Words, in May of 1999. The record spawned two singles: "Captured" and "Town."
Though the album itself wasn't commercially successful, it succeeded in catching the ear of Belfast's most famous musical product, Van Morrison, who invited Kennedy to tour with him as a backing singer on his Blues and Soul World Tour. Kennedy continued on the tour for six years, recording with Morrison on a succession of albums before dropping off for the release of his second solo album, A Better Man, in 1996. During his time with Morrison, Kennedy performed in front of Bill Clinton on a visit to Belfast, and has since become a favorite performer of the former president, performing for him on several subsequent occasions. A Better Man debuted at the top spot in the Irish album chart and gave rise to the hit singles "A Better Man" and "Put the Message in the Box."
In 1999 Kennedy released his third solo album, Now That I Know What I Want, the title exhibiting an increased confidence in his own ability. The platinum-selling lead single "These Days" (a duet with Ronan Keating of Boyzone) became his greatest single success to date, peaking at number three in the Irish chart. In March 2000 the Riverdance on Broadway show opened, with lead singer Kennedy performing a set of specially written by Riverdance composer Bill Whelan. He led the show for a full nine months, during which time a soundtrack album was released. He released a best-of and rarities collection in December of 2000 entitled Won't You Take Me Home...The RCA Years, while simultaneously recording his fourth studio album, Get on with Your Short Life, for release in October of 2001, and the following July in the U.K. That year he also recorded the original vocal for "Raise Me Up" with Irish/Norwegian group Secret Garden, a song that would go on to be a record-breaking hit for Josh Groban in the U.S.
Splitting with Sony, Kennedy signed a six-record deal with Curb Records in 2003 and began to work on a TV series entitled Brian Kennedy on Song for BBC Northern Ireland, during which he explored the origins of classic Irish and Scottish folk songs. The soundtrack to this series was released in April of 2003, and in November of the same year he recorded a concert at Belfast's Waterfront Hall for release the following March as the CD and DVD set Live in Belfast, his first live album. Kennedy broke ground as a novelist in 2004, releasing his debut tome, The Arrival of Fergal Flynn, as well as the second series of Brian Kennedy on Song and its accompanying soundtrack in February of 2005.
November 2005 saw the death of Northern Irish football legend George Best, and as the nation mourned, Curb released George Best: A Tribute, containing "You Raise Me Up" as a single — one of the songs Kennedy performed at Best's public funeral procession. In early 2006 Kennedy was chosen by a public vote to represent the Republic of Ireland at May's Eurovision Song Contest, performing his own original composition "Every Song Is a Cry for Love" and finishing a credible tenth place. A week later, his fifth album of original songs was released, entitled Homebird, entering the Irish album chart at number nine. In July of 2006 he began presenting the RTÉ Television show 1 to Remember with Brian Kennedy, adapting the On Song concept for the pop charts, and in March 2008 he released Interpretations, an album of pop covers including songs by U2, Al Green, and Declan O'Rourke.