seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Irish Tenor Josef Locke

Joseph McLaughlin, Irish tenor known professionally as Josef Locke, dies in Clane, County Kildare on October 15, 1999. He is successful in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s.

Born in Derry on March 23, 1917, McLaughlin is the son of a butcher and cattle dealer, and one of nine children. He starts singing in local churches in the Bogside at the age of seven, and as a teenager adds two years to his age to enlist in the Irish Guards, later serving abroad with the Palestine Police Force, before returning in the late 1930s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Known as The Singing Bobby, McLaughlin becomes a local celebrity before starting to work the UK variety circuit, where he also plays summer seasons in English seaside resorts. The renowned Irish tenor John McCormack (1884–1945) advises him that his voice is better suited to a lighter repertoire than the operatic one he has in mind, and urges him to find an agent. He finds the noted impresario Jack Hylton (1892–1965) who books him, but is unable to fit his full name on the bill, thus Joseph McLaughlin becomes Josef Locke.

Locke makes an immediate impact when featured in “Starry Way,” a twenty-week summer show at the Opera House Theatre in Blackpool, Lancashire, England in 1946 and is rebooked for the following summer, then starring for three seasons at the Blackpool Hippodrome. He appears in ten Blackpool seasons from 1946 to 1969, not the nineteen seasons he later claims.

Locke makes his first radio broadcast in 1949, and subsequently appears on television programmes such as Rooftop Rendezvous, Top of the Town, All-star Bill and The Frankie Howerd Show. He is signed to the Columbia label in 1947, and his first releases are the two Italian songs “Santa Lucia” and “Come Back to Sorrento.”

In 1947, Locke releases “Hear My Song, Violetta,” which becomes forever associated with him. It is based on a 1936 tango “Hör’ mein Lied, Violetta” by Othmar Klose and Rudolf Lukesch. The song “Hör’ mein Lied, Violetta” is often covered, including by Peter Alexander and is itself based on Giuseppe Verdi‘s La traviata. His other songs are mostly a mixture of ballads associated with Ireland, excerpts from operettas, and familiar favourites.

In 1948, Locke appears in several films produced by Mancunian Films, usually as versions of himself. He plays himself in the film Holidays with Pay. He also appears as “Sergeant Locke” in the 1949 comedy What a Carry On!.

In 1958, after Locke has appeared in five Royal Variety Performance telecasts, and while he is still at the peak of his career, the British tax authorities begin to make substantial demands that he declines to meet. Eventually he flees the country for Ireland, where he lays low for several years. When his differences with the taxman are eventually settled, he relaunches his career in England with tours of the northern variety clubs and summer seasons at Blackpool’s Queen’s Theatre in 1968 and 1969, before retiring to County Kildare, emerging for the occasional concert in England. He later appears on British and Irish television, and in November 1984 is given a lengthy 90-minute tribute in honour of the award he is to receive at the Olympia theatre commentating his career in show business on Gay Byrne‘s The Late Late Show. He also makes many appearances on the BBC Television‘s long running variety show The Good Old Days.

In 1991, the Peter Chelsom film Hear My Song is released. It is a fantasy based on the notion of Locke returning from his Irish exile in the 1960s to complete an old love affair, and save a Liverpool-based Irish night-club from ruination. Locke is played by Ned Beatty, with the singing voice of Vernon Midgley. The film leads to a revival in Locke’s career. A compilation CD is released and he appears on This Is Your Life in March 1992. He performs in front of the Prince and Princess of Wales at the 1992 Royal Variety Show, singing “Goodbye,” the final song performed by his character in the film. He announces prior to the song that this will be his final public appearance.

Locke dies at the age of 82 in Clane, County Kildare on October 15, 1999, and is survived by his wife, Carmel, and a son.

On March 22, 2005, a bronze memorial to Locke is unveiled outside the City Hotel on Queen’s Quay in Derry by Phil Coulter and John Hume. The memorial is designed by Terry Quigley. It takes the form of a spiraling scroll divided by lines, representing a musical stave. The spiral suggests the flowing melody of a song, and is punctuated by images illustrating episodes in his life, including Locke in police uniform, Blackpool Tower, Carnegie Hall, and the musical notes of the opening lines of “Hear My Song.”

A biography of the singer, entitled Josef Locke: The People’s Tenor, by Nuala McAllister Hart is published in March 2017, the centenary of his birth. The book corrects many myths that the charismatic Locke circulated about his career.


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Birth of Irish Tenor Frank Patterson

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.”