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Nellie McKay

Background information
Birth name Nell Marie McKay
Born London, England
Origin Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Genres Rock, pop, jazz
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Instruments vocals, piano, ukulele, cello, xylophone, glockenspiel
Years active 2002-present
Labels Columbia Records 2002-2006
Vanguard Records2006-2009
Verve Records2009-present

Nellie McKay (born Nell Marie McKay on 13 April 1982[note 1] ) is an English-born American singer-songwriter, actress, and former stand-up comedienne, noted for her critically acclaimed debut album Get Away from Me and for her Broadway debut in The Threepenny Opera (2006), for which she won a Theatre World Award.

Her music has showcased different genres, from jazz to rap and disco to funk. Her eclectic style and sharp lyrics distinguish her as an original voice. Her songs sometimes have a political tinge; she is a vocal feminist, and wrote a satirical song relating to feminist issues called "Mother of Pearl". McKay also "is a proud member of PETA" (album notes), wrote a song ("Columbia Is Bleeding") dealing with the issue of Columbia University's cruelty to animals, and ("John John") about her feelings in favor of political candidate Ralph Nader as well as performing concerts as benefits for WBAI.


Early life

McKay (pronounced /məˈkaɪ/ "McEYE") was born in London, England to a Scottish writer/director, Malcolm McKay, and an American actress, Robin Pappas. At the age of two, after her parents divorced, she moved with her mother to New York City, where they stayed until 1994. After one year in Olympia, Washington, the two returned east and lived in the Poconos, where McKay spent her high-school years. In 2000, Nellie McKay graduated from Pocono Mountain Senior High School.

In 2000, McKay started attending the Manhattan School of Music. (In fact, she wrote the first song in her debut album, "David" about David Eisenbach, one of her teachers from the school.) After about two years of attending the university, she dropped out. She started performing as a stand-up comic in Manhattan clubs, and eventually Greenwich Village's gay bars.

In February 2003 McKay opened for the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players at Tonic, on New York's Lower East Side. Jay Ruttenberg, from Time Out New York magazine, attended the show and wrote a prominent feature on McKay. Shortly afterwards, several record labels contacted her and started a bidding war. She eventually signed with Columbia/Sony and started producing her first record in the late summer of 2003.



First album production

Get Away from Me was McKay's first album. It was produced by The Beatles sound engineer Geoff Emerick and released by Columbia/Sony Records in February 2004. The title is a play on Norah Jones' Come Away with Me.[1] 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. The studio agreed, but McKay had to underwrite production costs of the five additional tracks with $25,000 of her own money. Although all the music would fit on a single disc, McKay insisted on a double disc debut to "reclaim the feeling of flipping over a record" (Allmusic).

Early acclaim

McKay was one of the major breakout artists from the 2004 SXSW Festival and was a finalist in the 2004 Shortlist Music Prize, and Get Away from Me was on several "Best of 2004" lists. She toured amphitheaters across 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.


Second album postponement

Pretty Little Head, which features duets with k.d. lang and Cyndi Lauper, was originally slated for an 18 October 2005 release on Columbia/Sony. Columbia/Sony announced a postponement of the release to 27 December 2005; and then again to 3 January 2006.

McKay wanted the full 65 minute, 23 track version of Pretty Little Head to be released, but Columbia was only willing to support a 16-track version that ran 48 minutes. Columbia/Sony was so adamant about the abbreviated version that it sent copies of this version out as promotional copies to critics. Executives at Columbia insist that McKay understood the label wanted an album consisting of 15 or 16 songs. They further claim that the version that was sent out was a mastered sequence that McKay herself submitted to the label.

Split with Columbia/Sony

McKay expressed her concern at a concert in West Hollywood, 29 November 2005, at the Troubadour, going so far as to distribute the personal e-mail address of Columbia CEO Will Botwin at the performance. As a result of this, Botwin agreed to the 23 track release but was fired by Columbia before he could make good on the agreement.[2] McKay was subsequently dropped from the Columbia/Sony artist roster. She claims it was 'probably best for everyone.'

Before splitting with Sony, McKay had written and recorded several songs for the motion picture Rumor Has It.... The songs were eventually released on the iTunes Store on 27 December 2005.[3]


Second album release

Initial reports stated that McKay would release Pretty Little Head on the Internet sometime in January, with a conventional release as early as February; however, this did not come to pass. Her record label troubles were documented in the March 2006 issue of Wired magazine. The article also mentioned the (illegal) availability of the full-length album in MP3 format on the internet. Similarly, the music chain HMV Canada promoted Pretty Little Head as having a Canadian issue date of 7 February 2006, but no release occurred[citation needed].

After nearly nine months of ironing out the legalities between labels, 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.[4] Like its predecessor, the album was divided in two discs and included a 44-page color booklet. The album included the intended 23 tracks as originally planned.[5] Release of the album in other countries, including Canada, was delayed until 21 November 2006.

After SpinART declared bankruptcy in 2007, Pretty Little Head was released by Sony in its original, 23-track 2-CD version, effectively bringing the album back to Columbia.

The Threepenny Opera

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 and Cyndi Lauper. The role earned her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance.


Four Scored

On 1 February 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.[6][7]

P.S. I Love You

In 2007, McKay also played the role of Ciara in P.S. I Love You, a film directed by Richard LaGravenese and starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler.

Third album

McKay's third full-length studio release debuted on 25 September 2007.[8] 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), totalling just about 30 minutes was her shortest release to date.[9] Reviews were generally positive,[9][10] though some fans felt the album's new direction didn't have the same bite and wit that McKay's previous outings had provided.[11]. The album was produced on Nellie's own label, Hungry Mouse, and released by Vanguard Records.


Fourth album

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 and Noble booksellers feature an exclusive edition, packaged with the bonus track "I Want To Be Happy." iTunes also features an exclusive edition with a different bonus track, "I'll Never Smile Again."

Other work

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McKay has been performing some new material at her recent concerts. One of these songs is called "The In Crowd."[12] McKay has also written two new Christmas-themed songs, "A Christmas Dirge" and "Take Me Away," both of which are available on her web site.

Other projects McKay has been reported to be working on include a musical film now in pre-production called The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom based on a graphic novel by Katherine Arnoldi and an original musical about a tenant's organization.[13]



Soundtracks and covers

Other songs

  • "The In Crowd"
  • "John-John"
  • "Teresa"
  • "Take Me Away"
  • "A Christmas Dirge"
  • "The Cavendish"[14]
  • "Goodbye"


  1. ^ There was some debate on McKay's birth year. Upon release of her first album in 2004, Sony Records publicized her age as being 19 years old and her birth year as 1984. However, her estranged father and, allegedly, her British birth certificate give her birth year as 1982, which would mean McKay was 21 at the release of the album leading some to recall an incident in which Sony's misrepresented the age of one of its female artists. McKay's website contains a reference to her age in relation to that of Doris Day's as "separated by 60 years and 10 days," putting her birth year at 1982. See this article and her official bio for reference and more information.


External links

Simple English

Nellie McKay
Background information
Birth name Nell Marie McKay
Born London, England
Origin Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Genres Rock, pop, jazz
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Instruments vocals, piano, ukulele, cello, xylophone, glockenspiel
Years active 2002-present
Labels Columbia Records 2002-2006
Vanguard Records2006-2009
Verve Records2009-present

Nellie McKay is an American singer-songwriter and actress. She was born in England.

Her songs have many genres including; jazz, rap, disco and funk. Her songs sometimes are feminist and political.[1]


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