Born on December 8, 1939, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, James Galway studied at London's Royal College of Music and Guildhall School before doing orchestra work and establishing a solo career as a globally recognized concert flutist. A lively showman, he has established a classical repertoire and explored more contemporary fare while also paying homage to his cultural roots, including collaborations with the Chieftains.
Background and Training
James Galway was born on December 8, 1939, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. With members of his family musically skilled, Galway began exploring various instruments himself as a child, including the harmonica and violin. He settled on the flute, showing remarkable abilities early on and winning multiple categories in his native country’s flute championships before he was a teen. Galway was mentored by musicians Muriel and Douglas Dawn during secondary school, and went on to attend London's Royal College of Music as well as the Guildhall School of Music and Drama before studying in Paris.
Embarks on Solo Career
During the 1960s, Galway worked with entities such as the Sadler’s Wells Opera House Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, eventually taking on a position as a principal solo flutist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra by the end of the decade. He stayed with the organization until the mid-'70s, but ultimately felt he wanted to go his own way. Galway embarked on a career as a solo performer, making scores of appearances during his fledgling season and releasing an album in 1976—The Man With the Golden Flute, on RCA—while also teaching in Rochester, New York, around this time.
Looks to Variety of Genres
Galway has released dozens of albums over the decades, including an acclaimed multi-volume 60 Years, 60 Flute Masterpieces series in 1999, and has become an international star, ultimately selling millions of records while becoming known for both his captivating stage presence and appearances in various media formats. Galway has played works from classical music icons like Antonio Vivaldi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and commissioned original pieces from contemporary composers as well, further distinguishing his repertoire.
Yet part of what has also made the performer stand out (and perhaps raise the ire of purists) is his willingness to play songs from a variety of musical genres, including show tunes, pop and country. He has remade works like John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic)” and “I Will Always Love You,” written and originally performed by Dolly Parton and later sung by Whitney Houston. Galway has also performed with the likes of Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, The Chieftains and Andrea Bocelli, and helped make movie magic with his contribution to the soundtrack for the 2003 Peter Jackson film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Mentoring and Personal Life
Galway was knighted in 2001 and has received an array of additional accolades, with the musician also heading the annual Galway Flute Festival, which provides mentoring to young musicians in the United States and Switzerland. In 2013, Galway also launched First Flute, an online educational resource for flutists at varying levels.
Galway has been married twice previously and has three children. His third wife, Jeanne, is a fellow flutist with a career of her own, and the two have performed together as well.
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