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Hayley Westenra

Background information
Born 10 April 1987 (1987-04-10) (age 22)
Origin Christchurch, New Zealand
Genres Classical, Pop, Celtic, Operatic pop
Occupations Singer
Instruments Vocals, Piano, Guitar
Years active 2000–Present
Labels Universal Records New Zealand
Decca Records
Associated acts Celtic Woman
Website HayleyWestenra.com

Hayley Dee Westenra (born 10 April 1987 in Christchurch, New Zealand)[1][2] is a New Zealand soprano, songwriter and UNICEF Ambassador. Her first internationally released album, Pure, reached #1 on the UK classical charts in 2003 and has sold more than two million copies worldwide. Pure is the fastest-selling international début classical album to date, having made Westenra an international star at age 16. In August 2006, she joined the Irish group Celtic Woman, was featured on their Celtic Woman: A New Journey CD and DVD, toured with them on their 2007 Spring Tour, and also was featured on their latest DVD, The Greatest Journey: Essential Collection, released in 2008. She sings songs in a number of languages.

Westenra has performed for dignitaries around the world. She is the youngest UNICEF Ambassador to date and has contributed to charities around the world.

Contents

Biography

Early life

Westenra is of Dutch[3] and Irish[4] heritage. Her parents, Jill and Gerald Westenra, have two other children, Sophie and Isaac Westenra. The family has a history of music: Westenra's grandmother Shirley Ireland was a singer, and her grandfather was a pianist who also played the piano accordion.[5]

Her pursuit of a musical career began at the age of six, when she was cast in the lead singing role of "Little Star" in the Christmas play[5] at her school, Cobham Intermediate.[6] After the show, a teacher who had watched the performance approached her parents to tell them that their daughter was "pitch perfect".[5] The teacher encouraged Westenra to learn how to play a musical instrument; Hayley soon after learned to read music and play the violin, piano, guitar, and recorder. She then began voice lessons and discovered a passion for musical theatre. By age 11, she had performed more than 40 times on stage,[5] but was often given male parts: "I got boy parts quite often. In ballet, there were not enough boys. So they ended up choosing half and half. I got chosen to wear the grey suit and the wig, and not the pretty dresses. In A Christmas Carol, I was Tiny Tim, so I got to be quite a sick, sick boy. There was a severe lack of singing boys and, at the time, it was quite disappointing."[7]

At 12, Westenra entered a professional recording studio to record Walking in the Air, a demo album originally created for friends and family. At first, her parents paid for 70 copies; soon after, 1000 more were cut for sale, handout, and publicity. After finishing her album, Westenra and her sister Sophie busked in Christchurch, giving away a few of the original 70 albums (at the behest of passers-by) and selling some of the latter 1000. The pair drew large crowds, and one woman asked the girls if they had ever recorded anything. The woman, a journalist with Canterbury Television, asked Westenra to appear on air.[8] Gray Bartlett, the director of a concert promotion company, saw the show and became interested in working with Westenra.[8] Shortly after, she was offered a recording deal with Universal Records New Zealand.[9] On that label, Westenra released a self-titled album of show tunes and light classical songs, as well as My Gift to You, a CD of Christmas music. Following the success of her albums, she was offered and later received lessons from Dame Malvina Major.[5]

International success

Westenra's albums were successful in New Zealand, but she was not well-known worldwide until she signed a contract with Decca Records and recorded Pure, a CD of classical, light pop, and traditional Māori songs. Decca's UK president was also impressed with her voice when they signed her to the label, saying that she was "captivated by the beauty and expressiveness of her voice."[10] Pure enjoyed record success: it became the fastest-selling international debut album in the history of the UK classical chart, with 19,068 copies purchased in its first week alone, quickly reached #1 on the UK charts, and entered the UK Pop Chart at #8.[8][11] Over two million copies of Pure have been sold to date. In New Zealand, Pure has been certified 12x platinum, making her the best-selling artist, regardless of genre, in the country's history.[12]

Pure's success ensured that Decca would take Westenra seriously. Some of her fame today can be directly attributed to the way in which Decca promoted her. Although the traditional audience of classical crossover music is adult women, they also promoted her music to children and teenagers.[13] Westenra recorded the end-title song for Disney movie Mulan II.[14] They also featured her in the national Radio Disney music education tour for middle-school students. David Horn, the producer of her live TV special which aired on PBS' Great Performances, said, "Her singing is so gorgeous, it's reminiscent of the great boy-soprano sound of Anglican church choirs."[13] This special was entitled, Hayley Westenra: Live from New Zealand.[5][15]

Decca has also promoted Westenra on television. She took her first acting role on the US programme American Dreams ("Charade"), where she played guitar and sang "Who Painted the Moon Black?".[16] While she was being promoted in Los Angeles, Marc Johnston, senior VP/GM for the Universal Classics Group, said, "When she was out there, people were giving her scripts to read, and she had a few rather impromptu auditions. So some film and TV roles are currently in the works."[13] In 2005, she was featured in the song "Bridal Ballad" recorded for the movie The Merchant of Venice.[17] In 2006, she was featured on the motion picture soundtrack for The New World with the song "Listen to the Wind".

Westenra was the 2004 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards winner of "Highest Selling New Zealand Album" and "International Achievement Award"[18] On 20 February 2004, Prime Minister Helen Clark awarded her for being the first New Zealand artist to receive the tenfold platinum status in the New Zealand market, where she held the number one artist position for 18 weeks.[8] She has won two Japanese Grammies for her work (Song of the Year, "Amazing Grace" and Album of the Year, Pure). Also in 2004, she began her world tour of New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and the UK, performing in a concert in November for Her Majesty The Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush.[19] In her autobiography, she remembered feeling more nervous in an audition where she sight read to Andrew Lloyd Webber an unreleased piece that he had written.[1] Her successful career was again bolstered at the Sydney Opera House where she received a rare standing ovation.[20] She concluded 2004 with a successful Christmas tour of the east coast of the United States as guest soloist with the Boston Pops Orchestra.[21]

Westenra in concert

In 2005, she released a new album, Odyssey. A mix of classical, pop, Celtic, and New Age music, she co-wrote and arranged some of the tracks on the album, which was released in the United States on 18 October 2005. A more recent version of Odyssey containing several recordings not on the original album was released in the United Kingdom on 10 April 2006, her 19th birthday. On 18 December 2005, she made an appearance on Kurt Browning's programme Gotta Skate, in which she performed with Andrea Bocelli.[22]

Westenra spent the first half of 2006 performing as a supporting act for the pop-opera quartet Il Divo on a worldwide tour, though in March she performed solo concerts in the U.S. as well. That tour officially ended in June, but was then extended by six performances. She then held several concerts in the UK and Germany through the end of the northern summer.[23] On 5 September 2006, Westenra was named as one of the ten outstanding young people in the world by the Junior Chamber International, becoming the first New Zealander so honoured.[24 ] On 13 November 2006 she participated in the dedication of the New Zealand War Memorial in London.[25] Three of Westenra's great-uncles served in World War II; one was killed.[6]

After releasing Pure, Westenra and her family moved to London. She continues to live in a central London flat, even though her family subsequently returned home to Christchurch. Although she spent most of 2006 touring, she did visit them when her schedule allowed.[26]

Beyond her initial success

In August 2006, Westenra joined Celtic Woman[27] and is featured on their second major DVD/CD album, Celtic Woman: A New Journey, which was released 30 January 2007 and immediately hit the Billboard Top 200 music chart at #4.[28 ] She toured with the group in the United States in 2007, with scheduled appearances in 88 venues across the country; the tour ended in June.[29][30] A subsequent tour of the United Kingdom was advertised, but never took place. Westenra was up front with the UK media about not continuing with Celtic Woman after the end of the US tour, but never gave a reason why.

Westenra's third international album, Treasure, was released on 26 February 2007 in the UK. All the songs on this CD were chosen by Westenra, who gave her record company "no say in the matter. I basically didn't let them in on what I was recording until the last minute so they had no choice. I didn't give them much room to disagree."[31] Tracks on this album include "E Pari Ra", "One Fine Day", "Let Me Lie", "Danny Boy", and "Abide with Me". Westenra co-wrote four of the fifteen tracks, and the album also features singer Humphrey Berney. The US/Australia/NZ edition followed in March under the name Celtic Treasure. Westenra dedicated the album to her grandmother, Shirley Ireland. Inside the sleeve of the UK edition, she wrote "I come from a musical family, and one with a real sense of history. My forefathers were on the maiden voyage from Ireland to Christchurch, New Zealand in 1850 – there's even a commemoration plaque in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, which bears the name Westenra. My grandmother used to sit me on her knee and sing songs like Danny Boy from as early as I can remember. A singer herself in her earlier years, she has always been a never-ending source of songs. It's this legacy of music that she's been passing down to me since my childhood, and it's many of these beautiful old songs that I've explored here on my album."

On the day before St. Patrick's Day 2007, she performed as part of Celtic Woman for President George W. Bush at the White House.[32] She had plans to present the president with a petition to place a mandatory carbon cap on the United States.[33] The goal of the petition was compliance with the commitment made by President Bill Clinton in previous years to follow the Kyoto Protocol.[34] However, she was not able to present the petition because the president was rushed away after the concert, due to security concerns.[35]

Westenra starred as Maria in the 2007 recording of West Side Story, which was released on 30 July.[33] On 28 July, she starred in Woburn LIVE 2007, where she performed a selection of the music of West Side Story with the other recording artists from the 2007 release.[36]

Hayley Westenra 2009

On 17 August 2008 Westenra participated in the tribute concert Lyrics by Don Black which was held at the London Palladium and featured performances of Black's songs by a selection of guest artists. She sang the duet Amigos Para Siempre, the score of which was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with Jonathan Ansell. The evening, hosted by Michael Parkinson was recorded by BBC Radio 2 Friday Night is Music Night and broadcast on 22 August 2008.[37 ]

The song "Prayer", composed by Secret Garden and performed by Westenra, is featured in the trailers for the Nintendo Wii video game, Endless Ocean, as well as in the game itself. Westenra also contributed several other songs, including her rendition of the Māori folk song "Pokarekare Ana".[38]

On 8 November 2008, Westenra performed at the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, singing Today Won't Come Again, written by Geoff Stevens and Don Black, with English tenor Jonathan Ansell, and accompanied Ansell on Here's to the Heroes, by Black and John Barry, when returning soldiers proceeded into the auditorium. On July 16, 2009, she performed at the Opening Ceremony of the World Games 2009 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, singing several songs including Pokarekare Ana, The Moon Represents My Heart (月亮代表我的心) in Mandarin, Tears For You (涙そうそう) and Amazing Grace.

On 29 August 2009, Westenra led the traditional singing of "Abide with Me" at the Rugby League Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium.

Philanthropy and charity

Westenra is the youngest UNICEF Ambassador to date. In 2005, Westenra visited Ghana to publicize her project, Bikes for Ghana, and actively helped with fundraising to purchase bicycles for young girls, allowing them to get to their schools from outlying surrounding areas.[39][40] When she was later interviewed about her charity work in Ghana she had this to say, "I met girls who had been given bikes and I could see how much it meant to them. We wanted to borrow one just for a photo and they wouldn't let them go they were really reluctant".[41]

In June 2006 she appeared at a fundraiser for UK charity Act Against Bullying.[42] On 8 June 2007, Westenra performed in a fundraising concert for Bikes for Ghana at the Victoria Hall in Stoke-on-Trent.[43] In September 2008 she visited Ghana again on behalf of UNICEF. She is currently working on raising funds for one of her favourite projects in Ghana, to install playgrounds for children, with rides which harness "kid power" to drive pumps used for providing clean drinking water from wells in that country. Hundreds of thousands of children have been victimized by contaminated drinking water in Ghana, and this project is a focus of Hayley's.[44]

In 2008, Westenra was selected by the New Zealand Society to receive the Global Kiwis Young Achiever Award for remarkable achievement in her field of endeavor on a global scale.[45] She has also received numerous awards for her contributions to music, both in New Zealand and elsewhere. In November 2008 she was named "classical performer of the year" at the Variety Club's annual awards in London.[46]

She has also been the ambassador for Save the Children in Hong Kong. More recently, she took part in a breast cancer awareness campaign in New Zealand.[21] One of the other charities which she helps is the Women's Environmental Network.[47] Another major charity she supports is the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy, which provides help for children who are disabled.[48]

Personal

Westenra was known as a vegetarian/pescetarian, and was nominated for PETA's 'Sexiest Vegetarian' for 2007.[49][50][51][52] However, when touring she sometimes worried about getting the appropriate amounts of nutrients. She was sometimes unable to obtain the more nutritious vegetables and other foods she preferred, and now on occasions she eats meat. In 2007, Westenra told the New Zealand Herald, "I'm completely bursting the bubble now, aren't I? That's that ruined."[53]

Recently, Hayley has acknowledged that she has a boyfriend.[54] However, she has declined to name him publicly.

Discography

Albums

Regional albums

Year Album Title Notes Region
2000 Walking in the Air An independently produced "demo", in two editions: one of 70 copies listing her as Hayley Dee Westenra, the other of 1,000 copies as Hayley Westenra. Was not intended for general release.[5][8] New Zealand
2001 Hayley Westenra Her first studio album; was not marketed for international release New Zealand
2001 My Gift to You Christmas music CD New Zealand
2004 Wuthering Heights Referred to as a "mini-album" in her autobiography[1] Japan
2006 Crystal [55] Japan
2007 Amazing Grace – The Best of Hayley Westenra [55] Japan
2007 Prayer Contains songs which were not previously released in Japan Japan
2008 Hayley sings Japanese Songs This album contains Hayley's English rendition of Japanese pop songs Japan
2009 Hayley sings Japanese Songs 2 CD and DVD of Japanese songs following her 2008 album Japan
2009 Winter Magic (Japanese: Fuyu No Kagayaki – Koibito Tachi No Pure Voice; 冬の輝き – 恋人たちのピュア・ヴォイス) Out on 30 September 2009 to coincide with her October tour of Japan; have both regular and limited editions[56][57] Japan

International albums

Year Album Title Notes
2003 Pure Her first release outside New Zealand and Australia; topped the charts at #1 NZ, #7 AUS, #7 UK, #70 US
2005 Odyssey Released on 8 August in New Zealand; released 18 October in the US; hit the charts at #1 NZ, #10 UK
2005 Live From New Zealand DVD; live concert in New Zealand; also includes biographical information as special features
2007 Celtic Woman: A New Journey Westenra joined the group Celtic Woman in the production of their third DVD, A New Journey[58]
2007 Treasure Her third international album, released in the UK on 26 February and in the U.S. on 13 March (under the name Celtic Treasure)[59 ] On 26 March, Treasure topped the New Zealand album charts, and has so far gone 2X platinum (35,000 copies sold) in New Zealand. The album was #9 in the UK charts.
2008 River of Dreams: The Very Best of Hayley Westenra A compilation of the Best of Hayley Westenra's hits from her previous albums, plus several new songs. This album peaked at #24 in the UK.
2009 Winter Magic A collection of Christmas songs – out on 30 November 2009 (UK) and 24 November 2009 (US)

Singles

Year Single Title Region
2003 "Amazing Grace" Japan
2005 "Wiegenlied" Japan
2009 "Nemunoki no Komori Uta/Tsubomi" Japan

Featured

Year Featured In Notes
2003 Russell Watson Live Sang "I Dreamed a Dream" and a duet with Watson on the song "Pokarekare Ana"
2004 Nussknacker und Mausekönig Sang "Peaches and Creamy World"[1]
2005 Mulan II Soundtrack Sang "Here Beside Me"
2005 The Merchant of Venice Soundtrack Sang "Bridal Ballad"
2005 Lilo & Stitch 2 Sang "Always"
2006 The New World soundtrack Sang "Listen to the Wind"
2007 Celtic Woman: A New Journey Joined the group and sang "The Sky and the Dawn and the Sun", "Over the Rainbow", "Beyond the Sea", "The Last Rose of Summer", "Spanish Lady", "Mo Ghile Mear" and "You Raise Me Up". She soloed "Scarborough Fair" and "Lascia ch'io pianga".
2007 West Side Story Sang the part of Maria
2007 Endless Ocean Sang various songs including "Prayer" and "Pokarekare Ana"
2007 Music of the Spheres Sang "On My Heart" and "On My Heart (reprise)"
2008 Passione Sang "Be My Love" with Mario Frangoulis
2008 Tenor at the Movies Sang "Un Giorno Per Noi" from Romeo and Juliet with Jonathan Ansell
2008 Songs of Praise Sang "Abide With Me", from her album Treasure
2008 Shadows From The Sky Full length movie being filmed in Northern Ireland, England, and Australia, scheduled for release in late 2009 or early 2010. Hayley plays herself, and portions of her 2008 Northern Ireland concert are included.
2009 Nativity! soundtrack Sang "Silent Night" from Winter Magic and "One Night One Moment"
2009 Songs of Praise Sunday 11 January

Notable tours and concerts

Year Tour Name Notes
2004 Pure New Zealand tour
2004 The Lord of the Rings Symphony Featured Soprano
2005 Odyssey
2005 UNICEF Benefit Concert Sang the official UNICEF song "Children First" at the H. C. Andersen jubilee in Copenhagen.[23] The song is a duet and was sung with Morten Harket, vocalist of the Norwegian band, a-ha.[60]
2006 Il Divo World Tour Supporting act for some of the concerts.
2006 Celtic Woman – A New Journey Concert During the live concert at Slane Castle in Ireland, Westenra made her début as a member of Celtic Woman.[58]
2007 Celtic Woman – A New Journey – US Tour Toured with Celtic Woman between March and April, with additional appearances in May.[61]
2008 The Central Band of the Royal British Legion Made one appearance as a special guest on 29 March at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon
2008 BBC Songs of Praise Recorded with the Mevagissey Male Choir at Truro Cathedral
2008 Shadows From The Sky Northern Ireland Concert Tour
2008 Classical Brit Award Ceremony Selected as a finalist and performed Un Giorno Per Noi with Jonathan Ansell during the ceremony in Great Britain.
2008 Afghanistan Tour Performed for North Atlantic Treaty Organization servicemen in the war zone.
2008 Japan Tour Performed in live venues and on television across Japan in May and June 2008.
2008 USA – Independence Day Celebration Performed "Shenandoah" at the U.S. Capitol before a live audience of 300,000 and a television broadcast audience (on PBS) of millions, and additionally on NPR. The concert was carried live on the American Forces Network (AFN) to U.S. military personnel in 175 countries and onboard 140 U.S. Navy ships at sea.
2008 United Kingdom Tour Performed in numerous live venues across Great Britain in July and August 2008.
2008 Iraq Tour In October 2008 entertained UK and Allied NATO troops in Basra, Iraq to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I.[62]
2008 River of Dreams Tour Performed in numerous live venues across Great Britain in October, November and December 2008 to promote the River of Dreams album. Dates in Scotland and England were scheduled, until the latter stops were cancelled due to Westenra suffering bronchial problems. The postponed concerts were rescheduled for May to July 2009.
2009 The Valentines Tour Performed live in venues across Great Britain during February 2009 with Jonathan Ansell.[63]
2009 Japan Tour Performed live in 15 concerts across Japan, March/April 2009.[64]
2009 World Games 2009, Taiwan Performed live at the Opening Ceremony of the World Games 2009 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on July 16, 2009.
2009 Taiwan Tour (TSO & Hayley) Performed live at the National Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan on 3 October 2009 with Taipei Symphony Orchestra.[65]
2009 Japan Tour Performed live in 5 concerts across Japan in conjunction with the release of a new regional album - from 11 to 18 October.[66]
2009 Winter Magic Christmas Tour Performed live from 23 Nov 2009 to 21 Dec 2009 in cathedrals across the U.K. and the Barbican, London

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Further reading

  • Little, Paul (2005). Hayley Westenra: The World at Her Feet. New Zealand: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-301926-0.  
  • Westenra, Hayley (2007). Hayley Westenra: In Her Own Voice. London: Virgin Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-905264-20-9.  

External links

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