George Donaldson, “Big George” as he was affectionately known by friends, family, colleagues and fans, passed away suddenly on March 12th at home in Glasgow. Born 1st February 1968, George had just turned 46 years old. His wife, Carolyn, and his daughter, Sarah, 13, who he described as the “lights of my life,” survive him.

One of nine children, George was born and raised in Glasgow’s East End and was a self-taught musician, accomplished on both guitar and flute. He had a lifelong passion for Celtic music, which was inspired by his late father Bernard, and he often said that one of his greatest thrills was the day he performed for his Dad – and 65,000 other fans – at Celtic Park for the 2000 Season opening match.

George started his singing career in local pubs and clubs at home and became a well-established singer on the vibrant Glasgow and West of Scotland Folk scene for over 20 years. George recorded folk sessions for BBC Scotland and often made appearances at Glasgow’s own Celtic Connections and the Glasgow West End Festival. He loved interacting with his audience whilst he played and in his solo career he performed alongside the Dubliners’ Jim McCann, as well as Ireland’s Phil Coulter, on many occasions. When in Glasgow George was a resident singer at Jinty McGuinty’s bar in the city’s famous West End.

When George was not on tour he was happiest to relax into his home life as the loving husband and father he was, doing what he loved to do best…. Gigging in Jinty’s on a Sunday night, “letting his hair down”…. or sitting on the banks of Loch Tay locked in a battle of wits with the fish.

George lived life to the full; he had the greatest sense of fun and was always ready with a smile, a joke and a bear hug. He imbued a sense of camaraderie with him wherever he went and he was the focal point and rock in any group. George was beloved by his family, friends and colleagues, a sentiment that he returned in spades.

George joined Celtic Thunder in 2007 after auditioning for the show’s Producer Sharon Browne and then Musical Director Phil Coulter. From the very beginning of CT George was an invaluable part of the show and helped to mold our trademark celebration of Irish and Scottish heritage. He was originally cast in the role of the “steadfast”, dependable character in the Celtic Thunder Show. George carried the distinction of being the sole Scotsman in Celtic Thunder, as well as the only married family man of the group.

Sharon wrote about her reasons for casting George in the first Celtic Thunder show “George Donaldson, a Scot from Glasgow is 40 and a big man. I had been adamant I wanted a “big” Scottish man for the show. George came to audition in Scotland, and I am so glad he did. Phil and I both felt George was someone special, an enormously likeable man. George blew us both away with his affable good nature as well as his singing, personality and character. George is a great guy.” Sharon Browne, Producer Celtic Thunder, June 2008.

From that first audition in Glasgow, George went on to appear in all 9 Celtic Thunder concert specials, on 11 CDs and 9 DVDs and was in every Celtic Thunder tour since the beginning. He performed with Celtic Thunder all around the world, with highlights including St. Patrick’s Day parades in Chicago, Boston, and New York City; at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration; for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon; for UN Human Rights Ambassador Mary Robinson and for literally millions of fans across the United States, Canada and Australia.

Celtic Thunder fans, “Thunderheads” as they are affectionately known, took great joy in watching George perform his signature solos within the Celtic Thunder shows. Whether proudly singing his lead line in the Scottish anthem “Caledonia” or his heartfelt rendition of “The Old Man” and “My Boy”, George’s performances oozed charisma, always meeting the mark and connecting with his audience. George was cast in the role of the “steadfast one” in Celtic Thunder from the show’s beginning and his song choices throughout all of the Celtic Thunder shows follow a common theme. They are a reflection of a man’s passage through life, covering the most important themes that we associate with our journey through adulthood; love and commitment “Life With You” and “The Voyage”; career “Working Man” and “Yesterday’s Men”; loss of a parent “The Old Man”; relationship with one’s children “My Boy” and “Cat’s In The Cradle”; aging “Gold and Silver Days” and “Life In The Old Dog Yet” and patriotism in “Skye Boat Song” and “Caledonia”.

George’s success as an artist was not restricted to only Celtic Thunder. In his extremely successful solo career he won multiple Irish Music Awards in both 2011 and also 2012. His first solo CD, entitled The White Rose, was released to critical acclaim in 2011, as was last year’s follow-up album, The World In My Mind. Although George’s inspirations came mostly from his homeland of Scotland, he also had a great appreciation for different sources and styles of music. On George’s numerous musical journeys all around Europe he found that he was drawn to Germany, the culture and the people. He spent many nights in discussions with the locals and he had found himself becoming an eternal struggling student trying to master the German language. It was during these late night sessions that the seeds of “The White Rose” his first solo album, were sown. The album includes a heartfelt mix of his own penned words and traditional songs, carefully chosen by George for their content and meaning. The album is about storytelling and reflection and is a salute to those wonderful people and places that inspired him.

Whenever George met fans while out on tour or on a promo trip they would often have a story about how his songs resonated with them, reminding them of a special person or time in their life, an instance or a regret. He had a great love and affection for meeting people all around the world. He loved to find out what their life stories were, he thoroughly enjoyed talking with them and believed there was a song in everybody that he met. That was part of George’s magic – his ability to touch others through his music and his performances. No matter what he was performing, George’s talent, warmth and love of music always shone through.

Rest In Peace George, you have touched the lives of those whose paths you have crossed and you will be sorely missed. You have left us with many fond memories to cherish and recall.

“When starting Celtic Thunder, I wanted to cast a mature, dependable Man as one of the characters. Over the 7 years since, I learned that George Donaldson was the embodiment of such a Man. 

A kind, loving, gentle giant, George was as affectionate as he was professional.  A pleasure to work with, an amazing family man to his wife Carolyn and his daughter Sarah, an important and loved friend to myself and everyone in Celtic Thunder.

I am devastated at his sudden and untimely death. Rest in Peace with your parents George, you will be sorely missed. Sharon x”. – Sharon Browne

“Today I lost a colleague, a Celtic Thunder original brother, but, more importantly, I lost a very good friend. From the first day I met him at the audition for Celtic Thunder in 2007, we became “thick as thieves” and shared so many great times together – on and off the stage. I know he’s looking down now on the two most important people in his life – Carolyn and Sarah – and on the rest of us holding them up for him, with his guitar strapped around his neck and a pint in his hand with that big smile of his. As he always sang Phil’s words, in his own inimitable way: “though he may be gone, memories linger on, and I’ll miss him… My Old “Bro”… Rest in peace Big Man. Those of us in what you deemed “Celtic Thunderland” will miss you more than you’ll ever know… Ryan xx”. – Ryan Kelly

“Always looking to laugh, joke and see the best in things, no matter how dark or dreary the situation. A big kid at heart, the fatherly figure that never stopped breathing, eating and sleeping Sarah and Carolyn. George was a good man, a hard worker and one of the best people to have on the road, both on and off the stage. I’m sure you’re playing music with the angels now George, I am going to miss you man. This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to write. RIP George Donaldson. Keith x”. – Keith Harkin

“To a dear friend, my days spent with you have been some of the happiest days of my life. Always remembering the countless inspiring stage performances we shared and, more importantly, the confidences and laughs. Holding you close to my heart for the rest of my days, My friend George x”. – Neil Byrne

“I really don’t know what I can say to either sum up how I feel, or how to pay tribute to one of my best friends. George wasn’t just an incredible friend from my first second in Celtic Thunder, but a role model. He constantly looked out for me. The two things I know more than anything in the world are firstly how much he loved Celtic Thunder; he really had his dream job and his love for everyone in the company was contagious. Secondly, more importantly, is how much he loved Carolyn and Sarah. They were the 7th and 8th members of our group because of how he included them. He loved them both more than anything else and was so proud of both of them. I’ll miss you so much G, always. RIP Big Man. Colm”. – Colm Keegan

“George was a man who brought light to peoples Lives. An incredible talent. Working with him from a young age, he was always the man to make all the Celtic Thunder gang laugh.  He had such joy for life. I am deeply saddened by his loss, and my heartfelt condolences go to his family at this time. RIP George. Love, Damo. x”. – Damian McGinty

“George you were a wonderful friend to me. I can only look back on my memories with you and laugh to my hearts content. You were a true gentleman. A gentle giant. You have left a great legacy behind you and most of all, you were a wonderful spirit. I will miss you so much bro. Rest in peace Big G. Emmet x”. – Emmet Cahill

“George was the first member of the group I met at the auditions, and from day 1 he made me laugh. He had a great sense of humour and made working away from home a hell of a lot easier. I have many great memories with the big man. He will be sorely missed but I know his musical legacy will live on in many hearts and minds. Till we meet again George, May you rest in peace. Paul” . – Paul Byrom

“A wise man once said, when a friend dies it’s like a library burning down. Today my life is poorer for the loss of the man who never failed to call me ‘brother’ and I never failed to feel like he meant it. Goodbye brother and I’m happy to say there are no regrets. I was proud of you every single time I had the pleasure of hearing you tell your stories. David”. – David Munro