seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


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Birth of Bing Crosby

bing-crosbyHarry Lillis “Bing” Crosby Jr., American singer and actor and descendant of Irish immigrants, is born on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington. His trademark warm bass-baritone voice makes him one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, selling over one billion analog records and tapes, as well as digital compact discs and downloads around the world.

Crosby’s parents are Harry Lillis Crosby Sr. (1870–1950), a bookkeeper of English descent, and Catherine Helen “Kate” (née Harrigan; 1873–1964), a second generation Irish American. An ancestor, Simon Crosby, emigrates to America in the 17th century, and one of his descendants marries a descendant of Mayflower passenger William Brewster.

The first multimedia star, from 1931 to 1954 Crosby is a leader in record sales, radio ratings, and motion picture grosses. His early career coincides with technical recording innovations such as the microphone. This allows him to develop a laid-back, intimate singing style that influences many of the popular male singers who follow him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, and Dean Martin. Yank, the Army Weekly magazine says that he is the person who has done the most for American soldiers’ morale during World War II.

The biggest hit song of Crosby’s career is his recording of Irving Berlin‘s “White Christmas,” which he introduces on a Christmas Day radio broadcast in 1941. The song then appears in his 1942 movie Holiday Inn. His record hits the charts on October 3, 1942, and rises to No. 1 on October 31, where it stays for eleven weeks.

In 1948, American polls declare him the “most admired man alive,” ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII. Also in 1948, Music Digest estimates that his recordings fill more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music.

Crosby wins an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way and is nominated for his reprise of the role in The Bells of St. Mary’s opposite Ingrid Bergman the next year, becoming the first of six actors to be nominated twice for playing the same character. In 1963, he receives the first Grammy Global Achievement Award. He is one of 33 people to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in the categories of motion pictures, radio, and audio recording.

Crosby influences the development of the postwar recording industry. After seeing a demonstration of an early Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder he places a large order for their equipment and convinces ABC to allow him to tape his shows. He becomes the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings onto magnetic tape. Through the medium of recording, he constructs his radio programs with the same directorial tools and craftsmanship (editing, retaking, rehearsal, time shifting) used in motion picture production, a practice that becomes an industry standard. In addition to his work with early audio tape recording, he helps to finance the development of videotape, purchases television stations, breeds racehorses, and co-owns the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.

On October 13, 1977, Crosby flies alone to Spain to play golf and hunt partridge. The following day, at the La Moraleja Golf Course near Madrid, he plays 18 holes of golf. As Crosby and his party head back to the clubhouse, Crosby says, “That was a great game of golf, fellas.” At about 6:30 PM, he collapses about 20 yards from the clubhouse entrance and dies instantly from a massive heart attack. At Reina Victoria Hospital he is administered the last rites of the Catholic Church and is pronounced dead. On October 18, following a private funeral Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Westwood, he is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. A plaque is placed at the golf course in his memory.