Irish music champion Mick Moloney dies aged 77

Mick Moloney, an Irish American musicologist and multi-instrumentalist who performed, recorded, produced and taught Irish folk music at concerts and arts and dance festivals across the United States, died July 27 in his apartment in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. . He was 77 years old.

New York University, where he retired as a world distinguished professor of music and Irish studies, announced his death, citing Mr Moloney’s family. No cause was provided.

As a performer and lecturer, Mr. Moloney played a key role in elevating Irish music from the pubs and ceilidhs (song, dance and storytelling nights) of his childhood to global audiences. He has recorded or produced over 70 albums of Irish music and hosted countless Irish festivals across the United States. He performed in crowded concert halls, often with the Green Fields of America ensemble, which he co-founded in 1977.

In 1999, he received “for his work in public folklore” a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, presented by First Lady Hillary Clinton.

His love was for traditional Irish music, some of which dated back 200 years or more, most of which had never been recorded or even written. He drew a stark contrast between this wealth of historic sounds and the modern image of Irish music that often emerges within the diaspora each St. Patrick’s Day with nostalgic songs such as “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”.

Just as ethnomusicologist and folklorist Alan Lomax did to American folk and blues music in the 20th century, Mr. Moloney has revived centuries-old Irish songs and stories and reincarnated them through his own recordings. or worked with record companies to convert them from old 78 rpm vinyl to CD.

In his music, playing, writing and teaching, he explored the unrecognized historical links between Irish music and the music of Appalachia, the Spanish region of Galicia and Africa. He also studied the various indigenous versions of the fiddle, banjo and bagpipes. He studied the similarities and artistic collaborations between Irish immigrants to the United States in the mid-19th century and European Jews who arrived soon after, describing how members of the two artistically inclined communities found themselves as artists. collaboratives on Broadway.

One of Mr. Moloney’s best-known albums, “McNally’s Row of Flats” (2006), was based on 19th-century songs co-written in the United States by an Irish immigrant, Ed Harrigan, and his immigrant friend Jew David Braham. The title track, from 1882, vividly describes immigrants from around the world living in poverty on Manhattan’s Lower East Side: “And that’s Ireland and Italy/Jerusalem and Germany/Chinese and the Africans and a paradise for rats/All mixed snow and rainy weather/They make up the tenants of McNally’s row of flats.

One of Mr. Moloney’s lightest vaudeville songs, “If it wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews”, included a verse about immigrants as the foundation of the country’s success: “What would this great Yankee nation / If it wasn’t for a Levy, a Monahan or a Donohue / Where would we have our policemen / Why would Uncle Sam have the Blues / Without the Pats and the Isadores there would be no greats shops/If it wasn’t for Irish and Jewish people.

As well as highlighting songs about mass immigration to the United States after the potato famine in Ireland in the mid-19th century, he also sang and wrote about what he saw as significant parallels between the Irish and African-American communities in the United States, both driven from their homeland by colonial force or neglect.

In 2002, Mr. Moloney published the book “Far From the Shamrock Shore: The Story of Irish-American Immigration Through Song”, considered a seminal survey of Irish American music from the Civil War era and which has been supported by a separately published. CD. He was working on a follow-up book when he died.

Michael Moloney was born in Limerick, South West Ireland, on November 15, 1944. As a teenager he listened to American folk singers, particularly the Weavers and Burl Ives, and began playing the tenor banjo at age 16, later adding guitar and mandolin. . Because he found little traditional music around his home at the time, he hitchhiked or took a bus down the River Shannon to County Clare, where he recorded singers and musicians. local folklore and copied them at home.

As a young man, he graduated from University College Dublin and played for five years in the contemporary folk band, the Johnstons, before immigrating to the United States in 1973. Although the band had long disbanded, there is an annual Johnstons Folk. Festival in Ireland; Mr Moloney performed there, at Slane Castle, in May 2022 with the Green Fields of America, appearing with Athena Tergis, former lead violinist of the theatrical show “Riverdance”.

Falling in love with the United States while touring and singing in the 1960s, he first moved to Philadelphia to study folklore and popular life at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate. in 1992, although he didn’t take kindly to people who call him Dr. Moloney. Over the years, he has taught courses in ethnomusicology, folklore and Irish studies at Penn as well as Georgetown and Villanova universities. He became an American citizen.

His two marriages, to Philomena Murray and Judy Sherman, ended in divorce. In recent years, Moloney has split his time between his apartment in Greenwich Village and the Thai capital, Bangkok, where he lived with his girlfriend, Sangjan Chailungka. Other survivors include a son from his first marriage, Fintan Moloney of West Chester, Pennsylvania; a brother; and three sisters.

In Thailand, Mr Moloney largely hung up his banjo and joined an old Irish friend, Father Joe, to raise money for orphans at the Mercy Center in Bangkok.

One of Mr. Moloney’s colleagues at NYU, Michael Beckerman, chair of the music department, recalls: “Once I was teaching a class in musical impressionism and was about to play a delicate Debussy. I had prepared the students to listen with the greatest subtlety. I put the recording on and suddenly there was a wild stomping on the ceiling. … We thought he would fall. I went upstairs and it was Mick’s Irish dancing demonstration…and since it was impossible to teach downstairs, my whole class came and learned amazing things about Irish dancing.

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