seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Musician William (Billy) Brown

william-billy-brownWilliam (Billy) Brown, a musician and artist from Northern Ireland, dies on June 6, 1999 of a heart attack at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. He is best remembered as a singer, saxophonist, and pianist with The Freshmen, one of Ireland’s most popular showbands of the 1960s and 1970s.

Brown is born in Larne, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. While studying at the Belfast College of Art he joins Billy McFarland’s Showband. Later he forms The Freshmen with some friends. Through Brown’s skillful arrangements, the band is able to reproduce sophisticated vocal harmonies in their covers of songs such as “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Carpet Man.”

Brown leaves The Freshmen in the mid-1970s to pursue other musical challenges, albeit with limited success. He later rejoins the band and, in 1977, they have one of their biggest hits with his composition, “Cinderella.” Following the breakup of The Freshmen, he has a minor solo hit in 1980 with his own song, “Look What Jerry Lee Did To Me.”

In his latter years, Brown develops his interest in wildlife, becoming a successful painter of nature scenes, as well as contributing his insights into the natural world on RTÉ 2fm‘s children’s show, Poporama.

Billy Brown dies of a heart attack on June 6, 1999, at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. In its obituary, the Irish Independent refers to him as “one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.”

In a tribute to Brown following his death, Freshmen founder-member, Maurice Henry, describes his late friend’s pivotal role in the band:

“You could say Billy was The Freshmen and without his talent and innovative musical skills we would certainly not have achieved as much, either as a showband or in our recordings.”

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Death of Victor Herbert, Composer, Cellist and Conductor

victor-herbertVictor August Herbert, an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor, dies suddenly of a heart attack on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, begins its pre-Broadway run in New Haven, Connecticut.

Herbert is born in Dublin on February 1, 1859 to Protestants Edward Herbert and Fanny Herbert (née Lover). At age three and a half, shortly after the death of his father, he and his mother move to live with his maternal grandparents in London, England, where he received encouragement in his creative endeavours. His grandfather is the Irish novelist, playwright, poet and composer Samuel Lover. The Lovers welcome a steady flow of musicians, writers and artists into their home. He joins his mother in Stuttgart, Germany in 1867, a year after she marries a German physician, Carl Schmidt of Langenargen. In Stuttgart he receives a strong liberal education at the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium, which includes musical training.

Herbert initially plans to pursue a career as a medical doctor. Although his stepfather is related by blood to the German royal family, his financial situation is not good by the time Herbert is a teenager. Medical education in Germany is expensive, and so he focuses instead on music. He initially studies the piano, flute and piccolo but ultimately settles on the cello, beginning studies on that instrument with Bernhard Cossmann from age 15 to age 18. He then attends the Stuttgart Conservatory. After studying cello, music theory and composition under Max Seifritz, he graduates with a diploma in 1879.

Although Herbert enjoys important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiere on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He is also prominent among the Tin Pan Alley composers and is later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produces two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.

In the early 1880s, Herbert begins a career as a cellist in Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he begins to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, move to the United States in 1886 when both are engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. He continues his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music of America, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions are his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which enters the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1898 to 1904 and then founds the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducts throughout the rest of his life.

Herbert begins to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Some of the operettas that he writes after the turn of the 20th century are even more successful: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste (1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, he begins to compose musicals and contributes music to other composers’ shows. While some of these are well-received, he never again achieves the level of success that he enjoyed with his most popular operettas.

A healthy man throughout his life, Herbert dies suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 65 on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, began its pre-Broadway run in New Haven. He is survived by his wife and two children, Ella Victoria Herbert Bartlett and Clifford Victor Herbert. He is entombed in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Herbert and his music are celebrated in the 1939 film The Great Victor Herbert, where he is portrayed by Walter Connolly and which also features Mary Martin. He is also portrayed by Paul Maxey in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. Many of Herbert’s own works are made into films, and his music has been used in numerous films and television shows. A Chicago elementary school is named for him. During World War II the Liberty ship SS Victor Herbert is built in Panama City, Florida, and named in his honor.


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Birth of James Bernard Fagan, Producer & Playwright

james-bernard-faganJames Bernard Fagan, Irish-born actor, theatre manager, producer and playwright in England, is born in Belfast on May 18, 1873.

Fagan is the eldest of the five children of Sir James Fagan, a surgeon at the Belfast Royal Hospital and an inspector of Irish reformatories, and Mary Catherine Fagan, née Hughes. He attends Clongowes Wood College near Clane, County Kildare and then moves to England. Initially interested in a career in the church, he begins studying law at Trinity College, Oxford in 1892 but leaves in 1893 without a degree. He works for a time in the Indian Civil Service but abandons this career for the stage.

Fagan begins his career as an actor with the company of Sir Frank Benson for two years, then joining, from 1895 to 1899, the company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he appears in Katherine and Petruchio, A Man’s Shadow, Julius Caesar, The Musketeers and Carnac Sahib. He starts writing plays in 1899, with The Rebels, for the time forsaking acting. In 1913 he returns to the stage touring as the Rt Hon. Denzil Trevena in his own play, The Earth. He next writes The Fourth of August (1914) and Doctor O’Toole (1917). In 1917 he produces his first play, his own adaptation of the Brieux play Damaged Goods at St. Martin’s Theatre. He next produces The Wonder Tales and The Little Brother at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.

Fagan takes over the Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square as a Shakespearean playhouse in 1920. The Times calls his revivals of Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Henry the Fourth (Part Two) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream “memorable for their freshness, sanity and distinction, and [deserving of] a place in theatrical history.” At the Court, he revives Damaged Goods and, in 1921, with the assistance of the author, produces George Bernard Shaw‘s Heartbreak House, with Edith Evans as “Lady Utterwood.” In 1922 he produces his play The Wheel at the Apollo Theatre. Its success allows him to repay his creditors. Even more successful is his adaptation of Treasure Island at the Savoy Theatre with Arthur Bourchier as “Long John Silver,” which opens December 26, 1922. It is revived every Christmas until the outbreak of World War II.

Fagan is persuaded by Jane Ellis, the actress who with Alfred Ballard founds the Oxford Playhouse “Red Barn” in 1923, to be its first manager. His first production at the Oxford Playhouse is a restaging of Shaw’s Heartbreak House and numbered Shaw among the audience. He produces The Cherry Orchard, at various theatres, to favourable reviews, popularising Anton Chekhov in Britain. From November 16, 1925, with Dennis Eadie, he presents Juno and the Paycock at the Royalty Theatre, thus bringing Seán O’Casey to the attention of London’s theatre-going public. O’Casey’s The Plough follows the next year.

Fagan receives little support from the University of Oxford or the play-going public and resigns in 1929. His successor is Stanford Holme, who broadens its appeal and, despite the straitened times, makes it financially viable. In 1929, he is a director of the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, where his friend Terence Gray is director. He also produces many works for the Irish Players.

Beginning in the 1920s, several of Fagan’s plays are adapted for film. He moves to Hollywood in 1929 for the filming by Paramount Pictures of his play The Wheel as The Wheel of Life. Other film work includes his co-adaptation of the screenplay for the 1932 film Smilin’ Through, and he co-writes Paramount’s Forgotten Commandments the same year. His play Bella Donna is filmed four times, including posthumously in 1946, and a 1936 film, The Improper Duchess is based on his 1931 play of the same name.

James Bernard Fagan dies in Hollywood, California, on February 17, 1933 at the age of 59 of a heart attack following a bout of influenza.


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Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.


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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.


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Death of Figurative Painter Francis Bacon

francis-baconFrancis Bacon, Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, emotionally charged and raw imagery, dies of a heart attack while on holiday in Madrid, Spain on April 28, 1992.

Bacon is born in Dublin on October 28, 1909. He is best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. His abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cage like spaces, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon says that he sees images “in series,” and his work typically focuses on a single subject for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats. His output can be broadly described as sequences or variations on a single motif, beginning with the 1930s Pablo Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures, the 1960s portraits of friends, the nihilistic 1970s self-portraits, and the cooler more technical 1980s late works.

Bacon takes up painting in his late 30s, having drifted as an interior decorator, bon vivant and gambler. He says that his artistic career was delayed because he spent too long looking for subject matter that could sustain his interest. His breakthrough comes with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which seals his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition. From the mid-1960s he mainly produces portraits of friends and drinking companions, either as single or triptych panels. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover, George Dyer, his art becomes more sombre, inward-looking and preoccupied with the passage of time and death. The climax of this later period is marked by masterpieces, including Study for Self-Portrait (1982) and Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86.

Despite his bleak existentialist outlook, solidified in the public mind through his articulate and vivid series of interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon in person is highly engaging and charismatic, articulate, well-read and unapologetically gay. He is a prolific artist, but nonetheless spends many of the evenings of his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London‘s Soho with like-minded friends such as Lucian Freud, John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes, Daniel Farson, Tom Baker, and Jeffrey Bernard.

After Dyer’s suicide he largely distances himself from this circle, and while his social life is still active and his passion for gambling and drinking continues, he settles into a platonic and somewhat fatherly relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards. The art critic Robert Hughes describes him as “the most implacable, lyric artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in all the world” and along with Willem de Kooning as “the most important painter of the disquieting human figure in the 50’s of the 20th century.” Bacon is the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais.

While on holiday in Madrid in 1992, Francis Bacon is admitted to the Handmaids of Maria, a private clinic, where he is cared for by Sister Mercedes. His chronic asthma, which has plagued him all his life, has developed into a respiratory condition and he is unable to talk or breathe very well. He dies of a heart attack on April 28, 1992, after attempts to resuscitate him fail.

Bacon bequeaths his estate, then valued at £11 million, to John Edwards and Brian Clark, executors. In 1998 the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin secures the donation of the contents of Bacon’s chaotic studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington. The contents of his studio are moved and reconstructed in the gallery. Most of his works remain in the Hugh Lane in Dublin today.

Since his death his reputation and market value have grown steadily, and his work is among the most acclaimed, expensive and sought-after. In the late 1990s a number of major works, previously assumed destroyed, including early 1950s popes and 1960s portraits, reemerge to set record prices at auction. In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucian Freud sets the world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction.


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Birth of Actress Valerie Hobson

valerie-hobsonValerie Hobson, Irish-born actress who appears in a number of films during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, is born Babette Valerie Louise Hobson in Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on April 14, 1917. Her second husband is John Profumo, 5th Baron Profumo, a government minister who becomes the subject of a sensational sex scandal in 1963.

In 1935, still in her teens, Hobson appears as Baroness Frankenstein in Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Colin Clive. She plays opposite Henry Hull that same year in Werewolf of London, the first Hollywood werewolf film. The latter half of the 1940s sees Hobson in perhaps her two most memorable roles: as the adult Estella in David Lean‘s adaptation of Great Expectations (1946), and as the refined and virtuous Edith D’Ascoyne in the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

In 1952 she divorces her first husband, film producer Sir Anthony Havelock-Allan. In 1954, she marries Brigadier John, 5th Baron Profumo, an MP, giving up acting shortly afterwards. Baron Profumo is a prominent politician of Italian descent. Hobson’s last starring role is in the original London production of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s musical play The King and I, which opens at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on October 8, 1953. She plays Mrs. Anna Leonowens opposite Herbert Lom‘s King. The show runs for 926 performances.

After Profumo’s ministerial career ends in disgrace in 1963, following revelations he had lied to the House of Commons about his affair with Christine Keeler, Hobson stands by him. They worked together for charity for the remainder of her life, though she does miss their more public personas.

Hobson’s eldest son, Simon Anthony Clerveaux Havelock-Allan, is born in May 1944 with Down syndrome. Her middle child, Mark Havelock-Allan, is born on April 4, 1951 and becomes a judge. Her youngest child is the author David Profumo, who writes Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir (2006) about the scandal. In it, he writes his parents told him nothing of the scandal and that he learned of it from another boy at school.

Valerie Hobson dies on November 13, 1998 at the age of 81 at a Westminster, London Hospital following a heart attack. After her death, her body is cremated in accordance with her wishes. Half her ashes are interred in the family vault in Hersham. The rest are scattered on January 1, 1999 by her sons David Profumo and Mark Havelock-Allan, near the family’s farm in Scotland.

Hobson is portrayed by Deborah Grant in the film Scandal (1989), and by Joanna Riding in Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s stage musical Stephen Ward, which opens at the Aldwych Theatre on December 19, 2013.