Thursday, August 02, 2007

Irish Singer Tommy Makem (1932-2007)

From the LA Times:

Tommy Makem, 74; Irish folk musician, storyteller
From Times Wire Services
August 3, 2007

Tommy Makem, a musician, singer and master storyteller who teamed up with the Clancy Brothers to popularize traditional Irish folk music around the world, has died. He was 74.

Makem died of lung cancer Wednesday in Dover, N.H., where he lived for many years, his son Conor told the Associated Press.

Playing banjo, tin whistle and singing in a deep baritone, Makem was known as the Godfather of Irish music for bringing Irish culture to audiences. His original songs, such as "Four Green Fields" and "Gentle Annie," have become Irish folk music standards.

"He was a great entertainer," his lifelong collaborator Liam Clancy told Ireland's RTE state radio. "He had a knack of making an audience laugh and cry, holding them in the palm of his hand."

Working with the Clancy Brothers — Liam, Tom and Paddy — Makem shot to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s, playing to sold-out audiences at New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall. They appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show" and other TV variety programs.

Three weeks ago, Makem visited his home county of Armagh in Ireland and traveled to Belfast, where he was presented with an honorary doctorate at the University of Ulster.

Makem was born in Keady, County Armagh, in 1932. He got much of his musical education from his mother, Sarah Makem, a folk singer. The songs she taught him provided the foundation for his later work with the Clancy Brothers and as a solo artist.

Seeking a career in acting, Makem moved to New York in the 1950s. He appeared on television, in summer stock and in off-Broadway shows. He began singing professionally in 1956 when he was asked to perform at the Circle in the Square Theater in New York's Greenwich Village.

He became friends with Pete Seeger and the other members of the folk group the Weavers. After he teamed up with the Clancy Brothers, they were signed to Columbia Records by talent scout John Hammond, who also discovered Bob Dylan. Along with Joan Baez, Makem was named the most promising newcomer at the 1961 Newport Folk Festival.

In 1962, when playing for President Kennedy, whose ancestors came from Ireland, Makem introduced a song about Irish immigrants in America:

"This song is about some people who came and got a rather black welcome," Makem said. "I think, all things considered, some of them didn't do too badly."

Makem left the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career before teaming up with Liam Clancy from 1975 to 1998. Tom Clancy died in 1990, and Paddy died in 1998.

"In life, Tommy brought happiness and joy to hundreds of thousands of fans the world over," Irish President Mary McAleese said in a statement. "Always the consummate musician, he was also a superb ambassador for the country, and one of whom we will always be proud."

Besides Conor, Makem is survived by sons Shane and Rory.


Legendary Irish singer Tommy Makem dies
DOVER, New Hampshire (AP) -- Irish singer, songwriter and storyteller Tommy Makem, who teamed with the Clancy Brothers to become stars during the folk music boom, has died of cancer. He was 74.

Makem died Wednesday in Dover, where he lived for many years, his son Conor said Thursday. He had battled lung cancer.

The Irish-born Makem, who came to America in the 1950s to seek work as an actor, grew to international fame while performing with the band The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. The brothers, also from Ireland, were Tom, Liam and Paddy Clancy.

Armed with his banjo, tinwhistle, poetry, stagecraft and his baritone voice, Makem helped spread stories and songs of Irish culture around the world.

He brought audiences to tears with "Four Green Fields," about a woman whose sons died trying to prevent strangers from taking her fields. Other songs included "Gentle Annie" and "Red Is the Rose."

"He just had the knack of making an audience laugh or cry. ... holding them in his hands," Liam Clancy told RTE Radio in Dublin, Ireland.

The New York Times wrote in 1967 called them "an eight-legged, ambulatory chamber of commerce for the green isle they love so well. ... At one point, Irish teenagers were paying as much homage to them as to the Beatles."

After touring for about nine years as The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, he struck out on his own, but he remained friends with the brothers. Tom Clancy died in 1990 and Paddy in 1998.

Back in the 1950s, Makem and his friends, saw their first few albums -- "The Rising of the Moon" and a collection of drinking songs -- as a fluke.

In a 1994 Associated Press interview, Makem recalled he was astonished when a Chicago club offered him more money to sing for a week than he was getting for acting with a repertory company.

"I was the opening act for Josh White. I felt sort of silly, coming out and singing unaccompanied, and then Josh coming out and almost making the guitar talk," he said.

As their fame spread, they appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and other major TV shows, and headlined concerts at Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall.

A young Bob Dylan was one of the folk singers who got to know Makem and the Clancys during the early 1960s.

"Topical songs weren't protest songs," Dylan wrote in his memoir "Chronicles Volume One." "What I was hearing pretty regularly, though, were rebellion songs, and those really moved me. The Clancy Brothers -- Tom, Paddy and Liam -- and their buddy Tommy Makem sang them all the time."

In 1992, Makem and the Clancys were among the stars performing in a gala tribute to Dylan at New York's Madison Square Garden. Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tracy Chapman and Dylan himself also took part.

President Mary McAleese of Ireland led the tributes to Makem after his death. "Always the consummate musician, he was also a superb ambassador for the country, and one of whom we will always be proud," McAleese said.

Even while battling cancer, he was maintaining a performance schedule, and he visited Belfast last month to receive an honorary degree and returned to his native Armagh.

"He had very much wanted to get over there," said his son Conor. "I think he knew it might have been his last time over."

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