Frank Patterson, internationally renowned Irish tenor following in the tradition of singers such as Count John McCormack and Josef Locke, is born on October 5, 1938 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. He is known as “Ireland’s Golden Tenor.”
As a boy Patterson performs with his local parish choir and is involved in maintaining the annual tradition of singing with the “Wrenboys.” He sings in the local St. Mary’s Choral Society and at a production of The Pirates of Penzance performed with both his parents. His interests extend beyond music and as a boy he represents Marlfield GAA hurling club, plays tennis at Hillview and golf at the Mountain Road course. He quits school at an early stage to work in the printing business of his mother’s family. He moves to Dublin in 1961 to enroll at the National Academy of Theatre and Allied Arts where he studies acting while at the same time receiving vocal training from Hans Waldemar Rosen. In 1964, he enters the Feis Ceoil, a nationwide music competition, in which he wins several sections including oratorio, lieder and the German Gold Cup.
Patterson gives classical recitals around Ireland and wins scholarships to study in London, Paris and in the Netherlands. While in Paris, he signs a contract with Philips Records and releases his first record, My Dear Native Land. He works with conductors and some of the most prestigious orchestras in Europe including the London Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris. He also gains a reputation as a singer of Handel, Mozart, and Bach oratorios and German, Italian and French song. He has a long-running programme on RTÉ titled For Your Pleasure.
In the early 1980s Patterson moves to the United States, making his home in rural Westchester County, New York. A resurgence of interest in Irish culture encourages him to turn towards a more traditional Irish repertoire. He adds hymns, ballads, and traditional as well as more popular tunes to his catalogue. In March 1988 he is featured host in a St. Patrick’s Day celebration of music and dance at New York City‘s famous Radio City Music Hall. He also gives an outdoor performance before an audience of 60,000 on the steps of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Patterson is equally at home in more intimate settings. His singing in the role of the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion is given fine reviews. Further recordings follow, of Beethoven arrangements, Irish songs, Berlioz songs, Purcell songs and others, all on the Philips label.
Patterson performs sold-out concerts from London’s Royal Albert Hall to New York’s Carnegie Hall, and with his family he presents two concerts at the White House, for presidents Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1995. He records over thirty albums in six languages, wins silver, gold and platinum discs and is the first Irish singer to host his own show in Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Rising to greater prominence with the new popularity of Celtic music in the 1990s, Patterson sees many of his past recordings reissued for American audiences, and in 1998 he stars in the PBS special Ireland in Song. His last album outsells Pavarotti.
In recognition of his musical achievements he is awarded an honorary doctorate from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island in 1990, an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Manhattan College in 1996 and the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston in 1998.
In 1999, Patterson learns he has a brain tumour. He has several operations in the following year and his condition appears to stabilise. He is diagnosed with a recurrence of his illness on May 7, 2000. He briefly recuperates and resumes performing. His last performance is on June 4, 2000 at Regis College in the Boston suburb of Weston, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter he is admitted to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York where he lapses into a coma and dies on June 10, 2000 at the age of 61.
At his death accolades and tributes came from, among others, President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Opposition leader John Bruton who said he had “the purest voice of his generation.”