McKay at the Farm Sanctuary 25th Anniversary Gala in New York City on May 14, 2011
|Birth name||Nell Marie McKay|
|Born||April 13, 1982|
London, England, United Kingdom
|Origin||Manhattan, New York City|
|Labels||Columbia Records 2002-2006|
Vanguard Records 2006-2009
Verve Records 2009-present
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Early life and education
McKay was born in London to an English father, writer-director Malcolm McKay, and an American mother, actress Robin Pappas. She holds dual citizenship. While growing up, she lived with her mother in Harlem, New York, in Olympia, Washington and in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. She studied jazz voice at the Manhattan School of Music, but did not graduate. Her performances at various New York City music venues, including the Sidewalk Cafe and Joe's Pub, drew attention from record labels. She signed with Columbia Records.
The recording sessions for McKay's debut album Get Away from Me took place in August 2003 with Geoff Emerick as producer. Emerick was known for working as the Beatles' engineer on such albums as Revolver and Abbey Road. The title is a play on Norah Jones' Come Away with Me. McKay is said to be the first woman to release a double album as her first release. Originally, her contract with Columbia called for 13 songs, but McKay aggressively lobbied her label for a double album, including bottles of wine, a PowerPoint slideshow, and a mock photo of her threatening Emerick with a gun.
Get Away from Me was released in February 2004. Jon Pareles of The New York Times called the album "a tour de force from a sly, articulate musician who sounds comfortable in any era". The album was included on several "Best of 2004" lists.
McKay was one of the major breakout artists from the 2004 SXSW Festival and was a finalist in the 2004 Shortlist Music Prize. She toured the northern United States in July 2004 as an opening act on the first half of the Au Naturale tour co-headlined by Alanis Morissette and Barenaked Ladies.
Pretty Little Head was released in the United States on 31 October 2006 on McKay's own label, Hungry Mouse, and was marketed by SpinART Records. The album was the intended 23 tracks as originally planned, divided into two discs with a 44-page color booklet. Release of the album in other countries, including Canada, was delayed until November 21, 2006. After SpinART declared bankruptcy in 2007, Pretty Little Head was released by Sony Columbia.
McKay made her Broadway debut as Polly Peachum in the Roundabout Theatre Company's limited-run production of The Threepenny Opera, co-starring with Alan Cumming, Jim Dale, Cyndi Lauper, and Brian Charles Rooney. The role earned her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance.
McKay's third full-length studio release debuted on 25 September 2007. With both of her previous albums lasting over 60 minutes and spanning two discs each, Obligatory Villagers, with only nine tracks (ten if purchased from iTunes), totaling 30 minutes was her shortest release to date. The album was produced on McKay's own label, Hungry Mouse, and released by Vanguard Records. The album was recorded at Red Rock Recording Studio in the Pocono Mountains where McKay went to high school.
On October 13, 2009 she released her fourth studio album, Normal as Blueberry Pie – A Tribute to Doris Day on Verve Records. The album contains twelve covers of songs made famous by Day, as well as one original tune. Barnes & Noble featured an exclusive edition, packaged with the bonus track "I Want To Be Happy". iTunes also featured an exclusive edition with a different bonus track, "I'll Never Smile Again".
On September 28, 2010 McKay and Verve Records released her fifth album, Home Sweet Mobile Home, with original tracks. It was produced by McKay and her mother, Robin Pappas, with artistic input from David Byrne.
On March 24, 2015 McKay released her sixth album, My Weekly Reader, a covers album of songs from the 1960s. Songs include Moby Grape's "Murder in My Heart for the Judge", The Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park", the Steve Miller Band's "Quicksilver Girl", Frank Zappa's "Hungry Freaks, Daddy", The Beatles' "If I Fell", The Cyrkle's "Red Rubber Ball", and Herman's Hermits' "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter".
On February 1, 2007, McKay joined Laurie Anderson, Joan Osborne, Suzanne Vega and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra for Four Scored, a single performance of reworked songs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
McKay also had a role in P.S. I Love You, a 2007 film directed by Richard LaGravenese and starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. McKay was cast as Ciara Reilly, sister of Holly Kennedy (played by Hilary Swank). She has written three Christmas-themed songs, "A Christmas Dirge", "Take Me Away", and "Weed (All I Want for Christmas)".
Her musical show "I Want to Live!" is based on the life of murderer Barbara Graham, who also inspired a 1958 film with the same name. Another show, "A Girl Named Bill", draws upon the life of transgender jazz musician Billy Tipton.
Nellie Mckay had also had her music published in the television show Weeds by Jenji Kohan.
McKay "is a proud member of PETA" (album notes); her song "Columbia Is Bleeding" dealt with the issue of Columbia University's cruelty to animals. She wrote a 2004 song ("John John") about her feelings in favor of political candidate Ralph Nader over Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
She has performed at events for the progressive radio station WBAI, Planned Parenthood, Farm Sanctuary, and the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, among many groups. McKay was one of several musicians to write a song in support of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis.
In 2018, she appeared on The Jimmy Dore Show, a progressive political commentary show on YouTube, and performed an updated version of Country Joe McDonald's anti-war song "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag".
- 2004: Get Away from Me
- 2006: Pretty Little Head
- 2007: Obligatory Villagers
- 2009: Normal as Blueberry Pie - A Tribute to Doris Day
- 2010: Home Sweet Mobile Home
- 2015: My Weekly Reader
- 2018: Sister Orchid
Soundtracks and covers
- 2005: Grey's Anatomy (TV series) : "David", "The Dog Song"
- 2005: Rumor Has It... : "Pasadena Girl", "Face of a Faith"
- 2005: Monster-in-Law : "Won't U Please B Nice"
- 2005: Weeds : "David"
- 2007: P.S. I Love You : ""P.S. I Love You"
- 2010: Terrible Thrills, Vol. 1
- 2010: Downtown Express
- 2010: Boardwalk Empire : "Wild Romantic Blues"
Collaborations and other appearances
- 2005: "If I Needed Someone" off the album This Bird Has Flown - A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul
- 2009: "Light and Night" as a single with the band Tally Hall
- 2010: "How Are You?" off the album Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim
- 2016: "Pack Up Your Sorrows" duet with Richard Barone off his album Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s
- "The In Crowd"
- "Late Again"
- "A Christmas Dirge"
- "Take Me Away"
- "The Cavendish"
- "Compared to What" (Original written and performed by Les McCann, Nellie McKay has included it in her performances during 2015.)
|2007||P.S. I Love You||Ciara Reilly|
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