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Kenneth McKellar and the Traditional Songs of Scotland

Updated on March 13, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton has loved music since childhood. She enjoys playing the piano, singing and listening to classical, folk and early music.

The Scottish Highlands
The Scottish Highlands | Source

A Popular Tenor and Entertainer

Kenneth McKellar was a much loved singer of traditional Scottish songs who died in 2010. He was trained as a classical tenor and started his musical career as an opera singer. He soon realized that opera was not his calling, however, and began to sing folk songs instead. For fifty years he entertained listeners in the United Kingdom and beyond. He built a reputation as a great interpreter of traditional Scottish vocal music and became very popular. He is missed by many people.

I grew up listening to Kenneth McKellar on records, the radio, and television. He had a winning personality and was an entertainer as well as a singer. My mother loved his voice and passed on her love to me. Luckily, McKellar's recorded works remain, enabling new generations to appreciate his voice and his contribution to music.

A view in the Scottish Highlands
A view in the Scottish Highlands | Source

Early Life of Kenneth McKellar

Kenneth McKellar was born in the town of Paisley in Scotland on June 27th, 1927. His father was a grocer and amateur musician who sang in the church choir. At home the young McKellar often heard recordings of opera on the family's wind-up gramophone. He was very impressed by some of the singers that he heard.

McKellar loved exploring the Scottish Highlands and was upset by the loss of highland forests during the second world war. He obtained a science degree from the University of Aberdeen and joined the Forestry Commission, hoping to play a role in tree restoration. He belonged to the university choir and continued to sing once he finished his university studies.

While he worked for the forestry commission, McKellar lodged with a lady who was very knowledgeable about Scottish folklore. She passed on her enthusiasm to McKellar. He took Gaelic classes at night and learned songs from the Hebrides.

A markerIsle of Skye -
Skye, United Kingdom
get directions

The Isle of Skye is part of the Inner Hebrides archipelago. The islands to the west of the isle form the Outer Hebrides. Kenneth McKellar learned some of the traditional songs from this area.

A Musical Career and Later Life

After two years surveying the highlands on horseback during his work for the Forestry Commission, McKellar decided to train for a musical career. He received a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music. Once he had graduated from the college, he joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company. He stayed with the company for two seasons but didn't enjoy being an opera singer. When he left the opera company he signed a contract with Decca. McKellar stayed with the Decca record company for over twenty-five years.

In addition to singing for recordings, McKellar performed on TV, radio, and the stage. He also wrote ballads and comedic songs. His love of comedy was useful when he wrote a sketch for a special show produced by the Monty Python team.

McKellar married in 1953. He and his wife Hedy had a son and a daughter. Hedy died in 1990, leaving her husband bereft. McKellar retired from performing in 1997. He died from pancreatic cancer on April 9th, 2010, while at his daughter's home in California. He had been diagnosed with cancer only a week before his death.

The beautiful Isle of Skye
The beautiful Isle of Skye | Source

The Skye Boat Song

Many Scottish folk songs are educational as well as being lovely pieces of music, since they describe Scotland and Scottish life. Some songs depict an important moment in the country's history, or perhaps in its legends. The Skye Boat Song is a good example. It describes the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Isle of Skye after the Battle of Culloden.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the son of King James Vll of Scotland. He was the grandson of King James Vlll, who also ruled England and Ireland as King James ll until he was ousted from the English throne.

Prince Charles and his supporters fought to reinstate a Scottish king on the throne of England. In 1746 they were involved in a bloody battle with the English on Drummossie Moor (also known as Culloden Moor) and were quickly defeated. The prince escaped and spent the next few months trying to evade capture before he was able to travel to safety in France.

During his attempts to evade the English after the Battle of Culloden, Prince Charles disguised himself as a woman and travelled to the Isle of Skye. He was helped by Flora MacDonald and accompanied her as her maid. Flora's deceit was discovered and she was imprisoned in the Tower of London, although she was released the following year. Charles escaped to France.

Skye Boat Song by Kenneth McKellar

Although the Battle of Culloden is often depicted as a Scottish versus English conflict, researchers say that more Scots fought with the English Hanoverians than with the Scottish Jacobites. History is often not as simple as it seems. Nevertheless, the battle is an emotional topic for many Scottish people. It was the last effort by Bonnie Prince Charlie to unite Scotland and England under a Scottish king.

My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose by Robbie Burns

Works by Robert Burns

Kenneth McKellar is admired as a fine interpreter of Robert Burn's songs and was the honorary president of several Burns Societies around the world. Robbie or Rabbie Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist who lived from 1759 to 1796. He was a prolific writer and is often referred to as the National Bard of Scotland. He didn't spend all of his time writing, however. Burns and his brother took care of the family farm after their father's death. Later Burns became an exciseman. He had multiple relationships with women but married a woman named Jean Amour.

Burns died at the early age of thirty-seven after an illness. There has been much speculation about the cause of his death. Modern researchers feel that the most likely cause was bacterial endocarditis. This condition involves inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. It may also involve inflammation of the heart valves.

Robert Burns didn't receive much education, but he was a serious thinker and often a careful craftsman when he created his poems. His poetry was loved by people in all social ranks. Burns wrote poems about love (a popular pursuit of his), friendship, work, and culture. Some of his poems were written in the Scottish dialect.

Afton Water

Many people are familiar with at least one item of Robbie Burn's work because he wrote the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne. This song is traditionally sung in many countries at midnight on New Year's Eve to say farewell to the old year. Burns wrote his song lyrics to accompany traditional Scottish airs. The music for Auld Lang Syne that is generally used today is not the music that Burns chose.

Where'er You Walk by Handel

Handel and Ballads

Although Kenneth McKellar specialized in Scottish music, he also sang songs written by composers from other countries. He was well respected for his interpretation of Handel's music. In fact, the conductor Sir Adrian Boult referred to McKellar as "the best Handel singer of the twentieth century". A recording of McKellar and John Sutherland in Handel's Messiah was one of the Decca record company's bestsellers of the day.

McKellar also sang ballads, such as "The Holy City ", which has a religious theme and is sometimes referred to as a hymn. The music of this popular Victorian song was composed around 1892 by Stephen Adams, whose real name was Michael Maybrick. The lyrics were written by Frederic (later Frederick) Weatherly, an English lawyer and lyricist.

The Holy City

The White Heather Club

In addition to making records, McKellar sang on stage and in radio and television shows. He was a regular singer on a popular TV show called the White Heather Club, although he was a late addition to the cast. The show had a Scottish theme and ran from 1958 to 1968. It included music, dance, and monologues by Andy Stewart, the show's host.

McKellar always wore a kilt and a sporran on the White Heather Club. A sporran is a pouch borne on a belt that serves the function of a pocket in trousers. (The kilt has no pockets.) The pouch is worn at the front of the body and is decorated in some way to complement the kilt.

Although the White Heather Club was very popular in its day, it has been criticized by some people for its inaccurate depiction of Scottish culture. McKellar's renditions of Scottish and other traditional songs seem to have been always appreciated, though.

Kenneth McKelllar has left us a lovely legacy of recorded music, some of which has been digitally remastered. I still enjoy listening to his voice. I hope his work is remembered and appreciated for a long time to come.

Reference

© 2014 Linda Crampton

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    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 2 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I never heard about Kenneth McKellar. But I know him now after reading this hub. Good job, Alicia. I always be your fans. Vote up!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Prasetio!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for expanding my horizons, Alicia, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Bill. I hope you and your family have a very merry Christmas.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for introducing Kenneth McKellar. You had a very rich childhood listing to artists like him. I'm listening to him now on "Holy City." What a very rich voice!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, MsDora. Thank you very much for the visit. Yes, Kenneth McKellar did have a rich voice. Some people were surprised that he gave up a career in opera, but he said that he just wanted to sing and not do the other things required of an opera singer.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 2 years ago

      Thanks AliciaC for introducing such a wonderful person with an equally wonderful voice. I admire the scotish songs as the serve both the purposes of education and meaningful entertainment.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, m abdullah javed. Thank you very much for the comment. I agree - Kenneth McKellar did have a wonderful voice, and his songs were often educational as well as enjoyable.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      What a beautiful voice this man had. This was definitely an educational experience for me. Here in the States we don't have the strong connection to the old country that folks in the British Commonwealth countries seem to have. Therefore we miss out on a lot of these masters, to our great loss. Wonderful hub!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Mel. I'm happy that other people find Kenneth McKellar's voice beautiful, too. Thank you for the visit. I appreciate your comment very much.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      This was very educational and I am always thankful for those who write to help others learn culture.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Dianna. I appreciate the comment.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Lovely photos and I definitely learned about a different person from you and in detail.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Devika. I'm glad that you find the hub informative.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 2 years ago from Peru, South America

      I wasn´t familiar with Kenneth McKellar until reading this article, but I really enjoyed reading about his life and career and will definitely look him up! My husband and I are interested in Scottish history and culture and enjoy various types of music. Thank you for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and the comment, vespawoolf. I hope you enjoy Kenneth McKellar's music.

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 2 years ago from Texas USA

      I love a man in a kilt. I enjoy folk music from many cultures. Excellent hub.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Arachnea. I enjoy folk music, too. It's one of my favourite types of music.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Nice article! I sent a copy of it to a Scottish friend.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment and for telling your friend about the article, Deb. I appreciate your visit.

    • Hannah David Cini profile image

      Hannah David Cini 2 years ago from Nottingham

      This was a really interesting article, I hadn't heard much about Kenneth McKellar before and I really enjoyed learning a little bit about him, especially the link with Burns. Voted up.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Hannah. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Kenneth McKellar was an interesting person.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 23 months ago from Minnesota

      Kenneth McKellar, has a beautiful tone. Thank you for introducing me to some of his music videos, Alicia.

      Lovely Editor's Choice hub!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, colorfulone. I love Kenneth McKellar's voice!

    • Shrouds profile image

      Ahmad Arsad Bin Abdullah 19 months ago from Malaysia

      A good written text,I consider this is my first start to read further on your product!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 19 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      "The Holy City" was one of my Mother's "songs." Whenever I hear these particular songs, I can hear her voice in them. Thanks for stirring the memory. Love learning about my ancestoral homeland on both sides of my family.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thank you for sharing this hub. I never heard of him, though I've heard of Robert Burns. Congrats on HOTD! Voted up for interesting!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and comment, Shrouds. It's nice to meet you.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Kathleen. Thank you for the comment. Music can bring back some lovely memories!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the congratulations and the the vote, Kristen.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 19 months ago from England

      Hi Alicia, how could I miss this? I grew up listening to him, and my mum loved his music! great hub! and congrats on HOTD!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Nell. It's nice to hear that someone else grew up with Kenneth McKellar's music! Thank you very much for the comment and congratulations..

    • JCielo profile image

      JCielo 19 months ago from England

      Alicia, a stunning Hub and a stunning voice! It's got to be one of my favourite Hubs. I've always thought that 'My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose' is one of the finest love songs ever written. A well-deserved HOTD!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for such a lovely comment, JCeilo! I appreciate it a great deal. I love Kenneth McKellar's voice and am happy to discover that others share my opinion!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 19 months ago from North Texas

      Great photos and music! Congratulations on HOTD!

    • bluebird profile image

      bluebird 19 months ago

      Thanks for sharing! So glad to know about this gentleman of music. The "Holy City" is one of my favorites. Really enjoyed this hub and the music with it.

    • Ask Jelly Baby profile image

      Jelly Baby 19 months ago from United Kingdom

      Hello Alicia

      As a Glaswegian meself it's impossible not to listen to Kenneth McKeller! I grew up listening to him and my love is a red rose is my absolute favorite song. I got his LP collection for my birthday back in the day so this hub has been a refreshing read. Very well written and congratulations on hub of the day. Have a good evening!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Au fait. I appreciate the congratulations.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, bluebird. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the music!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Ask Jelly Baby. I got one of Kenneth McKellar's records as a gift a long time ago, too. I still have the record. Thank you very much for the comment and the congratulations.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 19 months ago from Essex, UK

      A nice tribute Linda to Kenneth McKellar and his music. I remember him well as he was a regular part of New Year's Eve celebrations on British TV during the 60s and 70s. The BBC always presented the show from Scotland because in Scotland 'Hogmanay' was a bigger festival than New Year's Eve in England.

      Although I tend to prefer female vocalists of folk music, I can understand the appeal of Kenneth McKellar, and I do like the rendition of 'The Skye Boat Song'. Thanks for that - the song is quite honestly one of my ten favourite pieces of music, as well as holding some poignant memories.

      And big congrats (long long overdue) for the Hub of the Day accolade!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and the congrats, Alun. I like both male and female singers of folk music, but Kenneth McKellar is definitely one of my favourites!

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