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The Great Irish Tenor
John McCormack, from the Italian style to international radio, film and concert star (1884 - 1945)
Before reading further, stop whatever you’re doing, put some headphones on and listen to this song. You’ll recognize the melody from Danny Boy but the lyrics are different. It has me in tears every time.
Oh Mary dear, a cruel fate has parted us.
I’ll hide my grief, e’en though my heart should break.
Farewell my love, may God be always with you.
I love you so, I’d die for your dear sake.
But you’ll come back to me my sad heart whispers.
You’ll come with summer’s flowers or winter’s snow,
But I’ll be there to wait if God should spare me.
And with the years, my love shall deeper, greater, grow.
Oh Mary dear, the years are lone and dreary,
And yet you come not back my soul to cheer.
My eyes grow dim, my path of life’s near ended.
When death shall come, in spirit, Love, be near.
Remember then, my soul’s deep adoration.
Shed one sad tear for all the world to see.
Breath one short prayer, and I shall know you love me.
And still be waiting, Mary, when you come to me.
Alright. So who was John McCormack? He was one of the most famous stars in the world in his day and is considered by some the best tenor of the early twentieth century. But the early twentieth century is a long time ago and those who remember the height of his world fame first hand have passed on. Born in Ireland in 1884, the son of mill workers in a family of eleven children, his talent was first nurtured in the church where he sang in the choir in his home town and later in Dublin. At 21, he went to Milan to train in the Italian style, which you can hear in his early recordings. Very crackly but still magnificent.
His career began with operatic concert singing in Europe but spanned across into the emergence of new technologies that made mass culture and American pop culture possible. Soon he was performing on radio and recording songs for a mass market and the year WW1 broke out in 1914, he recorded probably the most famous one that everyone knows, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary. His influence on Irish-American identity was huge, as he sang songs of morale and pride in both nations, as well as carrying the European tradition through his style. He supported Irish national independence and sang nationalist songs like The Wearing of the Green but he also personally donated funds to the US war effort in WW1 and to the Red Cross and Catholic charities.
Oh the days of the Kerry dancing
Oh the ring of the piper's tune
Oh for one of those hours of gladness
Gone alas like our youth too soon.
Oh to think of it, oh to dream of it
Fills my heart with tears
There are so many beautiful versions of She Moved Through The Fair but this one is my favourite.
At age 45 he starred in the movie and love story Song o’ My Heart. It’s very romantic, delightful and innocent.
He received the title of Papal Count from the church for his charity, died in 1945 just days after the end of WW2 and was burried in Deansgrange Cemetery. His beautiful final home by the sea in Dublin is still there. Glena, Booterstown.
The John McCormack Society was founded in 1960 to keep his memory alive.