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The First 50 Podcast — Episode 5: Kate Ceberano

Friday, 26 May 2023
44 min listen
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In episode 5, our host Libby O’Donovan chats to Australian music icon Kate Ceberano.

Hear how our 2012 - 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director and Co-Artistic Director of this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival has transcended genres over her 40-year career and how she has recreated some of her greatest hits with a symphony orchestra for her Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2023 show, My Life is a Symphony.

I really took it upon myself when I was the Artistic Director [of Adelaide Cabaret Festival] to imagine I was merely a host… I held a lot of hands, and I wiped a lot of tears, and I shared a lot of joy. For the most part I think I was someone just there, just two feet behind someone, to assist in any way I could.

— Kate Ceberano

Listen now on all major streaming platforms

Expand Kate Ceberano and her band backstage at Dunstan Playhouse

Image: Photo by Heather Blewett

I didn’t want to become what everyone else was doing. I was quite enigmatic. My brother would always go: ‘You’re going from Jazz to punk to pop into funk… stick to your lane!'

— Kate Ceberano

Stream Kate’s new album My Life is a Symphony

  •  # 1 itunes 
  • # 2 Australian ARIA album chart 
  • # 6 ARIA album chart 
  • # 3 JB Hifi album chart 

 “Iconic, one-of-a-kind talent, electrifying - all words tag describe music legend Kate Ceberano.” -Mia Casey / BEAT magazine  

 “A beautiful record and one that should be heard in its entirety from beginning to end.” -Sean Sennett / Time To Talk  

 “A landmark album.” -Paul Cashmere / Noise 11 

About The First 50 Podcast

Hosted by the powerful and sassy Libby O'Donovan, The First 50 podcast series will provide 12 snapshot moments that cover the Centre's 50-year history. Hear stories, anecdotes and memories by those who have had their lives touched by the theatre: performers, artistic directors, ushers, and Walk of Fame-ers. 

The 12 episodes within the series will be published monthly across 2023. Be sure to follow for monthly drops. 


Kate Ceberano

Icon. Legend. Phenomenon. Beacon. Hero. Star. That’s Kate Ceberano to her peers. Soulful. Enthralling. Crackling. Boundless. Luminous. Original. Formidable. That’s the press talking. For Kate, 40 years and 30 albums into one of the most enduring and inspirational careers in Australian music, four words matter above all.  

Singer. Songwriter. Performer. Artist. 

In 2023, the universally revered, lavishly decorated Melbourne artist’s ruby anniversary finds her at the dawn of a new era. Her 30th album, My Life Is a Symphony, is a breathtaking celebration of her songwriting, featuring her most iconic songs, Brave and Pash, and personal favorites from across her four-decade recording career, reimagined with Kate at a new peak of command amid the grandeur of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. 

Unfolding on orchestral stages nationally, the epic musical setting is an apt reflection of an assured rise to the pinnacles of rock, pop, soul and jazz. Kate’s 11 platinum albums, 10 Top 10 singles and countless awards speak for themselves. But it's over 8000 performances on every concert, theatre and festival stage in the country and beyond that her unassailable distinction was forged.  

For those who came in late — with her record-breaking run with John Farnham in Jesus Christ Superstar circa ’92, perhaps; or her hit TV show of the mid ‘90s; her 2014 induction into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame; or her Top 5 album of 2021, Sweet Inspiration — Kate was a force of nature from day one. 

As a teen, she declined advances from UK pop stable Stock Aitken Waterman to cut her teeth instead in the rough and tumble of Melbourne's live scene. Her jazz ensemble the Hoagy Cats opened for local legend Vince Jones at the Arts Centre. Her pop outfit Expozay — “Saturday Night Fever meets the Breakfast Club,” she recalls — tore up the sticky carpet of the Chevron with Divinyls. So began a wide embrace of multiple musical genres that continues to this day. 

First contact for many was Kate's magnetic cameo as a scene-stealing backing singer on the Models #1 smash Out Of Mind, Out of Sight circa 1985. By that time, she was already singing for ARIA’s Breakthrough Act of ‘86, I'm Talking, the band that “pioneered New York style art-pop during the Jurassic period of pub rock” (Cameron Adams/Herald Sun) 

I'm Talking’s platinum debut, Bear Witness, brought Kate's jaw-dropping voice and irrepressible charisma to national attention via their three top 10 singles Trust Me, Do You Want To Be? and Holy Word. It led to stages as historic as Live Aid and Australian Made alongside INXS, Jimmy Barnes, Divinyls and the Saints. Today it’s enshrined among Rolling Stone's Top 200 Australian Albums of all time. 

I'm Talking took Kate on the road, including her first 36-date tour of the UK. Her showstopping cover of Rose Royce’s Love Don't Live Here Anymore was early warning of another string to her bow: an interpreter of exceptional taste and skill.  

“I'm Talking inspired a generation of electronic artists and DJs who would make their mark in the ‘90s and beyond,” wrote the authors of The 100 Best Australian Albums in 2010. Meanwhile, Kate’s first Countdown Award for Most Popular Female Performer foreshadowed her inevitable shift to the centre spotlight. 

Her first move was prescient. Recorded live, Kate Ceberano and Her Septet presaged the cool jazz crossover of the early ‘90s to sell platinum in 1987. You’ve Always Got the Blues, made with Wendy Matthews for the ABC TV series Stringer, was another hit, marking Kate’s third platinum award and her first ARIA (from 9 nominations) for Best Female Artist. 

Brave, her debut solo pop album, was a landmark. A skilled consolidation of her journey through dance, pop and soul, it sold triple platinum to become one of THE smash albums of 1989. Bedroom Eyes was the highest selling Australian single of the year, one of five from the album including Kate’s first charting singles as a songwriter, That’s What I Call Love and the title hit Brave

As if to reassert her mercurial nature, she followed Brave with a second jazz album, Like Now. In 1990, four MO Awards and two ARIAs — her second for Best Female Artist — sealed her status as a true cross-genre sensation. From Sanctuary Cove with Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston and Peter Allen to the World Music Awards in Monaco with Prince, Sting and Grace Jones, the world would become her stage. 

Nothing, however, had predicted the bona fide phenomenon of Jesus Christ Superstar. Kate’s starring role as Mary Magdalene opposite John Farnham elevated her to our highest echelon of musical performers. “Kate liquified the house,” fellow icon Paul Kelly recalls. The show played a staggering 80 arenas. The ARIA-winning cast album was our biggest-seller of 1992, sitting at #1 for 10 weeks. 

Now a household name by any measure, the late-night TV cabaret show Kate Ceberano & Friends was a foregone success in the years that followed. Kate’s huge personality, her unstoppable energy, contagious enthusiasm and exquisite voice had carved a unique place among our most admired and beloved entertainers. 

But the alchemy of the recording studio, the thrill of the pop charts and the lure of the international stage beckoned. Blue Box was made in New York, Los Angeles, London and Sydney. In the years that followed, Ronnie Scott’s of Soho, Viper Room and House of Blues in Hollwood, Nell’s Manhattan and the Sundance Film Festival would all fall under the Ceberano spell. 

As the ‘90s waned, Pash was yet another milestone, this time more personal. The first album to bear Kate’s songwriting credit on every track, it gave her yet another hit album and, with the classic title track, her biggest hit since Bedroom Eyes

The 2000s have witnessed an evolving blossoming of Kate’s creative frontiers. The 2004 arrival of her daughter, Gypsy, is naturally her proudest achievement. Bigger than winning Dancing with the Stars, judging X-Factor, publishing (with Tom Gilling) her autobiography I’m Talking, or even that Order of Australia “for significant service to the performing arts, particularly music, and to charitable organisations” in 2016. 

In studios spanning three continents, Kate’s various strings as writer, interpreter and all-round musical explorer have entwined to produce a panorama sometimes best identified by an address. 19 Days In New York was made with legendary soul producer Billy Davis. Nine Lime Avenue, another platinum seller, harked back to her childhood passion for ‘80s pop. Kensal Road was made in London with shades of acoustic folk and even country.  

In the past dozen years, Kate has made an album for mothers (Lullaby, with Nigel MacLean) and one for a Merry Christmas (with Ronan Keating). Her endless thirst for collaboration has encompassed indie (Dallas et Kate, with Dallas Cosmas), atmospheric pop (The Dangerous Age, with Steve Kilbey and Sean Sennett), and two revered jazz albums (Bittersweet with Mark Isham and the ARIA-winning Tryst with Paul Grabowsky). 

Released in 2016, Kate’s Anthology featured 30 years of hits, rarities and duets with Farnham, Keating, Matthews, Kelly and more spanning a staggering three CDs and 53 tracks. Still, it couldn’t tell the whole story.  

Her film and theatre roles going back to 1989. Her ambassadorship for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Making history as the first woman in the Australian Songwriters Association Hall of Fame. Her Ruby Award as artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Her burgeoning career as a highly sought-after and collectible painter, forged under the pressures of COVID lockdown. 

The last year has seen Kate’s stock as a live performer reach an all-time high. Her prime-time main stage and headlining spots on such esteemed festivals as Bluesfest in Byron Bay, the National Folk Festival in Canberra, the Big Red Bash and Mundi Mundi Bash have drawn a level of audience affection and participation reserved for our most iconic artists.   

It’s a story that refreshes yet again with My Life Is a Symphony, an album and tour which brings Kate Ceberano back to her essence as a musical force, an electrifying live performer, and one of the greatest voices of her generation. 

Singer. Songwriter. Performer. Artist. 

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Libby O'Donovan

Host, The First 50 podcast

Libby O'Donovan is a powerful and sassy performer (Sydney Morning Herald), renowned for her nuanced interpretations and extraordinary voice. She is a critically acclaimed jazz and cabaret performer and an award-winning Musical Director. Libby has entertained audiences the world-over with her unique talents, performing in New York, Tokyo and Toronto as well as Australia-wide. Equally at home in small ensemble acts as well as solo performances, she has been a proud member of ARIA nominated Cocos Lunch, Flat on Your Bacharach, and Women With Standards, for which she won a Green Room Award for Musical Direction. 

Highly regarded as a solo artist, Libby has performed seasons for the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Edinburgh Fringe, Sydney Spring Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, the International Jazz Educators Convention, Adelaide Cabaret Festival (including working with Broadway composers Jason Robert-Brown and Andrew Lippa), Melbourne Fringe, Adelaide Fringe, Feast Festival, and the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. 

Her theatre credits include Matthew Robinsons Metro Street, Doppio Parallelos DJ Squat, Contaminations Lab and The Last Child, Vitalstatistixs Way Dead Cool and Patch Theatre Companys Sharon Keep Ya Hair On! Libbys recent body of work in Cabaret includes The Story of Meredith Crocksley, Some of My Best Friends Are Single, Gady La La: Songs for the Sophisticated Fag Hag, Kate Leigh: The Worst Woman, UNSUNG and The Cowgirl and The Showgirl. 

As a recording artist she has featured on numerous Jazz and Cabaret albums, as well as her critically acclaimed self-penned albums The Complication, Home to You and Back to Broken Hill

Libby is also highly in demand as a composer, arranger and musical director. 

Libby was the recipient of Adelaide Cabaret Festival's Icon Award in 2022. 

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Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2023

The biggest cabaret festival in the world returns from 9-26 June '23.

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