Loreena McKennitt was born in Morden, Manitoba, of Irish and Scottish descent to parents Jack and Irene McKennitt.
McKennitt moved to Stratford, Ontario in 1981, where she still lives, and released her first album, Elemental
, in 1985. She began to garner global attention with subsequent releases of self-produced work, including To Drive the Cold Winter Away
(1987), Parallel Dreams
(1989), The Visit
(1991), The Mask and Mirror
(1994), A Winter Garden
(1995) and The Book of Secrets
(1997). Her single, The Mummers' Dance, was a widespread success, receiving considerable airplay in North American markets during the spring of 1997. Her first full-length album in years, An Ancient Muse
, was released in November 2006. All of her work has been released under her own label, Quinlan Road.
In 1995, her version of the traditional Irish song Bonny Portmore was prominently featured in the sci-fi/fantasy film Highlander 3
, causing a large increase of her album sales among fans of the films.
Tragedy struck in 1998 when McKennitt's fiancee Ronald Rees and two others close to her drowned during a boating accident. She was deeply affected by the tragedy, founding the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund the same year, and releasing an album of two live performances called Live in Paris and Toronto
, in which all of the profits were donated to the fund. After this, McKennitt released no new recordings and performed only rarely until 2006, when she released the studio album, An Ancient Muse.
In July 2004, Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson made her a member of the Order of Canada, the most prestigious civilian honor in Canada.
In late 2004, fan hopes of a long-awaited re-emergence were buoyed by a rare concert appearance for the Yehudi Menuhin Foundation on December 7, 2004, at Brussels' Cirque Royal and notes on the Quinlan Road website about inspiration for new material. In addition, she performed at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival on August 4, 2005. McKennitt talked about research in Turkey and Greece, as well as China and Mongolia. In a recent Quinlan Road newsletter, she is quoted as writing, "I am presently in the thick of the research and writing phase for my next studio recording. All being well, I hope to be in the studio this year enjoying the creative companionship of some fine musicians."
In July of 2005, Loreena spent some time at Real World Studios, recording new songs for her next album. According to the Quinlan Road website, "We recorded three songs during this adventure and sketched out a few more." The recording session included collaborations between McKennitt and a musical band from Greece, along with other performers.
McKennitt's music has been officially classified as World/New Age/Celtic music even though it contains aspects and characteristics of music from around the globe. Each album contains songs from different cultures and could therefore not be classified.
Before McKennitt composes any music she engages in massive research on a specific subject which forms the general concept of the album. Before creating Elemental
and Parallel Dreams
she traveled to Ireland for inspiration from the country's history, geography and culture. The album, The Mask and Mirror, was preceded by research in Spain where she engaged in studying Galicia, a Celtic section of Spain, along with its abundant Arabic roots, thus creating an album including elements of both Celtic and Arabic music.
McKennitt is often compared to Enya
, but is more grounded in traditional and classical invocations using literary works as sources of lyrics and springboards for interpretation, such as The Lady of Shalott by Lord Tennyson, Prospero's Speech, the final soliloquy in William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Snow by Archibald Lampman, William Blake’s Prospero, intended for a dramatic piece of King Edward the fourth and The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.