Often hailed as one of the world’s best living Irish button accordion players, seven-time All-Ireland champion John Whelan was born to Irish parents living in Dunstable, England. He was raised in the vibrant London Irish music scene of the 1970s, learning his craft from such legends as Lucy Farr, Roger Sherlock, Paddy Taylor, Mick O’Connor, and his teacher, Brendan Mulkaire.
John has received the “Musician of the Year” award from the Irish Music Association — twice. He has recorded more than 15 CDs and spent several weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard World Music Charts. He has also appeared on more than 30 albums with other artists, including the National Geographic: Ireland CD. John is known for being extraordinarily generous with his music and possesses a rare knack for mentoring and teaching, spotting talent in fledgling musicians — no matter the instrument — and helping them grow to their fullest potential.
John is also a sought-after composer and producer. He has written more than 65 original tunes, many of which have been recorded and performed by artists all over the world. John’s music has been featured on such TV shows as Sex and the City, History’s Mysteries, and History Detectives, and John himself has performed on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and in the movies Gods and Generals and Ang Lee’s Ride With the Devil.
And the Music Goes On… Even During a Pandemic
John embodies the dichotomy of being forward-thinking while still deeply rooted in tradition. He fearlessly explores the creative reaches of music, artistry, and expression while carefully preserving the musical roots from which he originally flourished, and passing those on to the next generation.
This is true even during the national and global shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was the year that John was to have celebrated 50 years of playing music professionally by touring through all 50 U.S. states. When the pandemic canceled the bulk of his tour plans, John rushed back home to do a free St. Patrick’s Day concert on Facebook Live instead.
Years before the pandemic, John launched a series of free Monday night concerts, streamed live on Facebook, that he calls “Mondays With John.” He has continued these broadcasts faithfully through the pandemic, bringing the joy and connection of his music into thousands of households every week. He also launched his “Taking Time” slow sessions on Wednesdays, which quickly developed into a community of more than 70 players gathering every week on Zoom to listen, chat, and play along with John.
During the pandemic John also launched a series of Zoom-based master sessions, allowing sequestered listeners and musicians of all levels to play along live and chat with some of the best traditional Irish musicians on the planet. His ongoing Whelan Master Sessions have featured such greats as Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely of Lúnasa, Joanie Madden and Mirella Murray of Cherish the Ladies, Patrick Mangan and Haley Richardson of Riverdance, and renowned fiddler Brian Conway, with many more to come.
John is also hard at work on recording a new CD and transcribing his original compositions into book form. His newest CD, Passage of Time, is available on Bandcamp. It features 33 of his favorite original compositions.
Instructor – Button Accordion