Derek Bell of The Chieftains dead at 66

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NEW YORK, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Derek Bell, a 30-year member of the Celtic music band The Chieftains, has died. He was 66.

The band announced Bell's death in a news release issued in New York on Thursday.


"It is with deep sadness that The Chieftains announce the death of band member and much beloved friend, Derek Bell," said the release. The announcement said the cause and time of death were "unknown at this time."

After a recent Chieftains concert and television taping in Nashville, Tenn., Bell remained in the United States for a routine physical examination and surgical procedure that was described as minor.

"He had been given the all-clear by his doctors to return home to Ireland," said band's statement, "so his death comes as a great shock to all those close to him."

The Nashville appearances were part of the band's promotional campaign on behalf of their new album -- "Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions" -- as well as their 40th anniversary.


Bell was born on Oct. 21, 1935 in Belfast, Ireland.

A child prodigy, he wrote his first concerto when he was 12. He studied at The Royal College of Music, throughout Europe and the United States with leading music teachers, including Leon Goossens and Madam Rosina Lhevinne.

Bell appeared with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and with symphony orchestras in Pittsburgh, Moscow, London and Budapest. He was once a principle oboe, horn and piano player for the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, and received the Manns Prize from the Royal College of Music.

He joined The Chieftains in 1972 after a career as harp professor at the Belfast Academy of Music and harpist with the Northern Ireland BBC Orchestra. In his time with the band, the Chieftains have won six Grammys -- including best traditional folk album for "Long Journey Home" (1998), best world music album for "Santiago" (1996) and best pop collaboration with vocals for "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" with Van Morrison (1995).

Bell's body of work as a composer included three piano sonatas and two symphonies.

The second symphony -- "The Violet Flame, Comte de Saint Germain" -- was premiered in 1990 and was performed the following year at the Edinburgh Festival with the Northern Ireland Symphony Orchestra. In 1993 his "Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times" for Irish harp, strings and timpani was premiered in Boston.


Bell recorded more than 30 CDs with The Chieftains and eight solo CDs -- including "Carolan's Receipt, The music of Carolan, Volume 1," "Celtic Seasons of Enchantment" and "Ancient Music for the Irish Harp."

He was awarded an MBE -- Member of the British Empire -- by Queen Elizabeth in 2000 for his contribution to traditional Irish and classical music. Widely regarded as one of the world's leaping harpists, Bell also played the oboe, horn, cor anglais, hammered dulcimer and keyboards.

The surviving members of The Chieftains -- Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, Kevin Conneff, Matt Molloy, Martin Fay, Michael Tubridy and Sean Potts -- issued a joint statement lamenting the loss of their mate.

"His passing will leave a silence that will never be filled," said the statement. "Anyone who has had the honor of meeting Derek will know that the world will be a much less interesting place without him. We will all miss him terribly, Ar dheis De go raibh a anam (our sympathy to his wife and family)."

Bell is survived by his wife Stephanie, his mother and two sisters.

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