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Edel with local jazz musicians Matt Clark, Jack Dorsey and Mark Williams, after a performance at the California Jazz Conservatory.


From the Golden Vale to the Golden State: Edel Meade's Fulbright experience

min read

From the Golden Vale to the Golden State: Edel Meade's Fulbright experience

min read


From the Golden Vale to the Golden State: Edel Meade's Fulbright experience

Edel Meade is an award-winning performing artist and educator from Clonmel, Co. Tipperary working at the intersection of jazz, blues, folk and contemporary music. As the recipient of the 2022-2023 Fulbright-Creative Ireland Professional Fellowship Award, she spent six months in Berkeley, California exploring what it means to be a contemporary jazz vocalist from Ireland.

On my first day walking down University Avenue in Berkeley, I saw a hummingbird for the first time in my life and was immediately enraptured by this small, fíor-álainn feathered being hovering in front of my eyes…

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here in the San Francisco Bay Area almost six months! I had been to Berkeley in 2015 to attend a week-long Jazz Vocal Intensive at the California Jazz Conservatory, so when it came to applying for the Fulbright Award, it felt right that I would return to work with Laurie Antonioli, former chair of the vocal programme at the CJC to carry out my artistic research.

I feel so fortunate to have had this experience. It has been beyond enriching from a personal and professional perspective. Highlights include getting to hear vocalist extraordinaire, Bobby McFerrin’s Circlesongs at the Freight and Salvage every Monday. I even got to sing with him the first week I arrived, having been introduced to him by my wonderful mentor, Laurie Antonioli. I’ve really enjoyed working with Laurie, whether working on songs, discussing future career plans or simply sipping tea and sharing anecdotes while fawning over Frankie, her extrovert cat. These sessions were invaluable and I am hopeful our working relationship will continue for many years to come.

I’ve seen a few more hummingbirds since and it has always felt like a good omen.

I loved my blues singing classes with leading Bay Area vocalist, Rhonda Benin although I was somewhat embarrassed at the beginning having to belt out some of the raunchier songs in class due to their explicit nature. I got over it gradually! Rhonda kindly invited me to sit-in on some of her gigs so I got to perform with a New Orleans-style jazz band at Fior d’Italia in San Francisco – the oldest Italian restaurant in the U.S., and with some excellent jazz musicians at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, an African-American cultural landmark in Oakland.

I really value having had the opportunity to gain insight into the African-American experience in the U.S. through conversations with my Black friends here and having attended the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, seeing first-hand the inextricable link between music in the Black community and a deeply held spirituality. Since jazz is rooted in the African-American experience, this has been a critical insight which will inform both my artistic and teaching practice in Ireland for many years to come.

It has also been fascinating to experience jazz as part of the fabric of American culture. I sang ‘Cheek To Cheek’ and ‘Misty’ at a friend’s gig recently and people were listening in a way that was different to back home. It was clear that these songs hold a cultural significance here that extends much further than mere ‘background music’.

Artistic growth

I have had so many amazing performing opportunities since coming to the U.S. I was thrilled to present a special St. Brigid’s Day concert performance at U.C. Berkeley on a beautiful grand piano, and to join violinist Colm Ó Riain for his St. Patrick’s Day Extravaganza at Great Star Theater. I sang ‘My Lagan Love’ as part of the Irish-American Crossroads Festival at the San Francisco Public Library. I sang the blues in Berkeley. I shared fellow Tipperary woman, Bridget Cleary’s story through song in Chinatown. I sang jazz in North Beach. I sang sean-nós at The Starry Plough and there has been many other varied performances along the way.

I’ve loved developing a beat poetry-style arrangement of Dairena Ní Chinnéide’s brilliant poem, ‘I Lost My Poems At The Electric Picnic’ and performing it live at the CJC with some of the Bay Area’s finest jazz musicians, and coming up with a calypso arrangement of my song ‘Biddy Early’s’ and spreading the word regarding the inimitable bean feasa from Feakle, Co. Clare! Works-in-progress include a new original composition, ‘When Boann Met Oshun’, based on similarities between the Irish and African water deities, as well as an exciting contemporary arrangement of the traditional folk song, ‘Lord Gregory’.

Irish connections

There is a strong Irish community in the Bay Area. I’ve been moved by the generosity and warmth of Irish-American and American people who have welcomed me into their homes, invited me to parties/events and brought me to see their favourite places in California. I really appreciated the warm welcome from the Irish Consulate within a few days of my arrival and getting to view San Francisco from the 26th floor of their supreme downtown location.

I had not expected so many opportunities to share my research relating to Irish Otherworld Songs, Irish folklore/mythology and Brigid, pre-Christian goddess and saint, and was very pleased to facilitate guest lecture-presentations for the Women’s Spirituality program at the pioneering California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), the Celtic Studies program at U.C. Berkeley, The Jazzschool at the CJC, Berkeley City College and at the Women and Mythology conference in Syracuse, New York!

My friend Colm pointed out the green and cherry-headed parrots known to put on a spectacular show in the late afternoons visible from the Filbert Steps/Telegraph Hill. I wasn’t expecting to see wild parrots in the San Francisco sky, but there were a lot of other things I wasn’t expecting also…

The appetite for learning about Irish history and culture came as a surprise. My 10-week course, ‘Traditional Irish Singing: A Journey of Ireland Through Song’ at The Jazzschool was fully booked and participants were very keen to learn songs in Irish off-by-heart and to perform them as part of our student showcase concert, which for me, was very impressive!

Edel Meade

"The appetite for learning about Irish history and culture came as a surprise. My 10-week course, ‘Traditional Irish Singing: A Journey of Ireland Through Song’ at The Jazzschool was fully booked and participants were very keen to learn songs in Irish off-by-heart"

Other things that surprised me

  • The weather. Apparently it was the worst Winter here since the 1800’s with lots of rain, storms and grey skies- reminded me of home!
  • The shortage of eggs from January-April. If you didn’t make it to the grocery store before lunch, there would be no eggs left on the shelf at Trader Joe’s.
  • The smell of eucalyptus trees – I love it!
  • I got to meet the legendary singer-songwriter Joan Baez following the screening of the documentary ‘Joan Baez I Am A Noise’ at the Castro Theatre in April.


I can’t mention the Bay Area and not mention the food! The choice and quality of food here is unbelievable. Whether you are in the mood for Thai, Mexican, Nepalese, sushi, Southern cuisine, Chinese, Italian, Peruvian, Ethiopian food or a good Shepherd’s Pie – it’s all available here. There is such a diversity across the board in terms of people, communities, neighbourhoods, art and culture, and a pervasive sense of acceptance and non-judgement. It is very, very inspiring.


One of the things I love most about the Bay Area is the proximity to nature. I love being by the sea, so walking along the Embarcadero is always a treat. It’s easy to get around via BART, bus, cable car or ferry, so it’s easy to reach the beach or one of many parks or to see the magnificent Redwoods in Muir Woods! Further afield, Yosemite National Park is an exceptional, restorative nature setting. West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz is another gorgeous scenic route with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Bay.

Above: Yosemite National Park

What have I found challenging?

A work-life balance doesn’t seem to exist here. It would be considered fairly normal to get up at 5am and to work seven days a week, especially for those working freelance. I’ve noticed people don’t seem to complain about this though, they just get on with it. Some people I’ve met here are working three jobs as the cost of living is so high. And homelessness is a huge problem in the Bay Area, sadly.

What’s next?

I’m going to hear Gretchen Parlato, one of my favourite contemporary jazz vocalists live at Kuumbwa Jazz soon, and then whale-watching with a couple of friends. I am excited about hearing Erykah Badu performing live in Oakland before I leave as she has been an inspiration for many years. I’ll get to hear U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi speak at the Sydney Goldstein Theater next week and have tickets booked for ‘In The Evening By The Moonlight’, a new play based on meetings between Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone and James Baldwin in Waverly Place, New York, at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre – the Bay Area’s premier African American Theatre.

I spotted two vultures at Salt Point State Park in Sonoma and initially perceived them as foreboding creatures, but my friend Sundari (who is more experienced with vultures than me!) proposed that they are creatures of transformation and rebirth.

When I get back to Ireland…

I’ll be premiering a brand new performance collaboration with San Francisco-based Dubliner, Eamonn Flynn at the Clonmel Junction Arts Festival and at Arthur’s, Dublin, which is a direct result of my Fulbright experience. We met at the United Irish Cultural Center here when we were both performing as part of a St. Brigid’s Day celebration. We’ll be reimagining sean-nós singing with flourishes of blues, jazz and contemporary grooves, and have plans to record an album together later this year.

Going forward, I’ll be collaborating on a new performance project with Rhonda Benin exploring the intersection between early African-American vocal traditions and traditional Irish vocal traditions, and am planning to further my research into the African roots of jazz and blues with Dr. Anthony Brown, Professor of Jazz History at the California Jazz Conservatory, in 2024. I’d also love to record a blues album in the near future!

I hope to stay connected with colleagues and friends in the Bay Area for many years to come and to continue forging new cross-cultural collaborations; and to say hello to the hummingbirds arís agus arís eile! I wish to express my gratitude to the Fulbright Commission and to Creative Ireland for this extraordinary opportunity. Míle buíochas!

Edel Meade and Eamonn Flynn will perform live at the Clonmel Junction Arts Festival on 5th July – tickets available from; and at Arthur’s Blues and Jazz Club, Dublin on 6th July – tickets available via Eventbrite: Arthur’s Blues and Jazz Club

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