When Father Ray Kelly stepped to the lecturn at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Oldcastle, Ireland, he sang a version of Leonard Cohen’s well-known song “Hallelujah” for newly married Chris and Leah O’Kane.
As a gift to the couple, he changed the lyrics to suit their wedding. Little did Kelly know the excitement his gift to the couple would unleash.
“After it went up on You Tube there were requests to fly me out to South Africa, all over the States, Poland, Croatia, all over the place,” he says. “People just wanted me to come out and perform a wedding. And sometimes it wasn’t even to perform a wedding, but to sing ‘Hallelujah.’”
Kelly admits that reworking “Hallelujah,” which has become a kind of ubiquitous anthem over the past three decades, was first brought to his attention at another wedding he officiated seven or eight years ago.
“This little girl — she was a bridesmaid — was about 10 and she started singing Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Hallelujah’ with the words changed to suit the bride and groom,” he says. “At the end of the service I went over to her and asked for a copy of the words and she gave me a copy. And, as I found out afterwards, she actually wrote the words herself for that particular wedding with the help of her mom and dad.”
So it was that 10-year-old girl and Leonard Cohen who helped launch Kelly’s singing career. The 61-year-old priest has signed a deal with a major American label, Universal Music Group, which just released his debut CD. And yes, it includes that new version of Hallelujah.