Women’s History Month Spotlight: 5 Women Who Influenced Karan Casey

Irish singer-songwriter Karan Casey is no stranger to accolades and international success. She has toured the world for decades, and has appeared on more than 80 albums (including 11 solo albums). Her list of collaborators is extensive and includes names like Solas (she was a founding a member), Béla Fleck, James Taylor, Peggy Seeger, The Chieftains, and more.

Karan Casey is also no stranger to Folk Alley — we’re all big fans! Described by The Glasgow Herald as “The most soulful singer to emerge in Irish traditional music in the past decade,” and by the Irish Times as “a singer of songs that tell a story and show their muscle,” Karan Casey is a musician we make it a point to pay attention to.

In addition to her work as a songwriter and musician, Casey is also involved in theater and in gender equity; in 2018, she helped found the organization FairPlé, which is dedicated to achieving fairness and balance for female performers in Irish traditional and folk music. We profiled Karan last March, too — shortly after she released her 2023 album, Nine Apples of Gold. You can read last year’s spotlight HERE.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Casey who inspired and influenced her as she was developing her own unique musical voice. Check out her responses below!


by Karan Casey

Nina Simone – “To be fair — anything by Nina I just love!! But I really love her piano solos, especially in this song. I love the groove on the piano and I love the way it crosses over and draws from so many musical styles, particularly her classical training. I think it’s really inspiring the way she fits this in and makes it all work.”

Ella Fitzgerald – “I really adore the sound of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, her rounded sonorous singing, she makes this seem very easy, which it’s not. I used to try to sing this when I was 18 and singing in a Bistro in Dublin trying to be a jazz singer…I also really love ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ with Duke Ellington, as I love her improvisations…. I could spend the rest of my life listening only to Ella and be a happy woman. I also LOVE her rendition of ‘Summertime’… Oh it’s just killer, every single note placed with such precision and emotion and love.”

Sarah Vaughan – “I completely love the way Sarah Vaughan sings this song. I listened to it over and over again; it’s such a beautiful love song. I also really love ‘Sassy’s Blues’ or ‘Shulie Bop.’ I’ve spent years trying to learn off ‘Shulie Bop’ — again, it’s such killer singing.”

Billie Holiday – “Again — anything by Billie Holiday I love. I used to sit on a stoop in the Lower East side of Manhattan and listen to Billie all day. I relied on her a lot especially if I was sad and lonely or just having a bad day. Somehow she would take me out of myself. This song in particular really brought home the racism in America to me in this stark incredible rendition, such an emotional, powerful performance.”

Aretha Franklin – “Again the same deal as with all of these amazing singers! I love anything Aretha sings, it’s hard to pick the one song but I love ‘Respect.'”

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