Nellie McKay

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Nellie McKay
File:Nellie McKay.jpg
McKay at the Farm Sanctuary 25th Anniversary Gala in New York City on May 14, 2011
Background information
Birth name Nell Marie McKay
Born (1982-04-13) April 13, 1982 (age 37)
London, United Kingdom
Origin Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Rock, pop, jazz, reggae, rap, funk, disco
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, actress
Instruments Vocals, piano, ukulele, cello, xylophone, glockenspiel
Years active 2002–present
Labels Columbia Records 2002-2006
Vanguard Records 2006-2009
Verve Records 2009-present

Nell Marie "Nellie" McKay is a British-born American singer-songwriter, actress, and former stand-up comedian, noted for her critically acclaimed albums, and for her Broadway debut in The Threepenny Opera (2006). Her music has showcased different genres, from jazz to rap and disco to funk.

Early life and education

McKay was born in London[1] to an English father, writer-director Malcolm McKay, and an American mother, actress Robin Pappas. While growing up, she lived with her mother in Harlem, in Olympia, Washington and in rural Pennsylvania.[2]

McKay 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.[1] She signed with Columbia Records.


File:Nellie McKay 02.jpg
Nellie McKay at the Farm Sanctuary 25th Anniversary Gala in New York City


Get Away from Me

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.[3] The title is a play on Norah Jones' Come Away with Me.[2] 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. (Allmusic).

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."[4] The album was included on several "Best of 2004" lists.[5]

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.

Rumor Has It...

McKay wrote and recorded several songs for the motion picture Rumor Has It.... The songs were released on the iTunes Store on 27 December 2005.

Pretty Little Head

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.[6] 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 21 November 2006.

After SpinART declared bankruptcy in 2007, Pretty Little Head was released by Sony.

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, Jim Dale, Cyndi Lauper, and Brian Charles Rooney. The role earned her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance.[7]


Obligatory Villagers

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.[8] 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.

Normal as Blueberry Pie - A Tribute to Doris Day

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."

Home Sweet Mobile Home

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.

My Weekly Reader

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".

Other work

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.[9]

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)."

McKay is featured in the song "How Are You?" on David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's concept album Here Lies Love, released in 2010. The album chronicles the life of Imelda Marcos, the widow of former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.

McKay, along with violinist Philippe Quint, starred in and contributed music to the independent film Downtown Express, directed by David Grubin.[10]

Her musical show "I Want to Live!" is based on the life of murderess Barbara Graham, who also inspired a 1958 film with the same name.[11][12]

Political views

McKay is a vocal feminist, and wrote a satirical song relating to feminist issues called "Mother of Pearl".[13] McKay also "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 also wrote a 2004 song ("John John") about her feelings in favor of political candidate Ralph Nader.[14]

She has performed at events for the progressive radio station WBAI, Planned Parenthood, Farm Sanctuary,[15] 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.[16]



Soundtracks and covers

Collaborations and other appearances

Other songs

  • "The In Crowd"
  • "John-John"
  • "Teresa"
  • "Late Again"
  • "A Christmas Dirge"
  • "Take Me Away"
  • "The Cavendish"[17]
  • "Compared to What" (Original written and performed by Les McCann, Nellie McKay has included it in her performances during 2015.)


Year Title Role
2007 P.S. I Love You Ciara Reilly
2010 Downtown Express Ramona


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gay, Jason (May 18, 2003). "Whoa, Nellie". The New York Observer.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Tannenbaum, Rob (April 4, 2004). "Her Life Is a Cabaret". New York magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hurwitz, Matt (September 1, 2004). "Recording Nellie McKay's Get Away From Me with Geoff Emerick". Mix Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Pareles, Jon (February 8, 2004). "Flying Hitlers and Pepsi's Super Bowl Fumble". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Metacritic: Best Albums of 2004".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Van Gelder, Lawrence (6 October 2006). "Arts, Briefly". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Theatre World Awards Recipients".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Obligatory Villagers : Nellie McKay : Review : Rolling Stone
  9. The Brooklyn Paper: ‘Four-Scored’: Laurie Anderson joins the Philharmonic at BAM
  10. Tsioulcas, Anastasia and Tom Huizenga (June 8, 2011). "Classic And Indie Rock Collide On The Big Screen in 'Downtown Express'". NPR.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Holden, Stephen (March 24, 2011). "Bringing Out the Bad Girl for Some Tough Times". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Di Nunzio, Miriam (February 9, 2012). "Speaking With .... Nellie McKay". Chicago Sun-Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Pareles, Jon (December 17, 2007). "A Multi-Voiced Warbler With an Electric Ukulele". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "NPR: All Songs Considered: Political Songs & Satire". NPR.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Heyman, Marshall (May 16, 2011). "Saving Pigs, Not Eating Them". The Wall Street Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Powers, Ann (September 21, 2011). "Songs For Troy Davis: Why Musicians Take On Death Row". NPR.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Boilen, Bob (2008-04-02). "Nellie McKay Reveals 'Cavendish'". NPR. Retrieved 2012-04-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links