seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Jimmy Kennedy, Songwriter & Lyricist

jimmy-kennedy-1James Kennedy, songwriter and lyricist, is born on July 20, 1902 near Omagh, County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. He puts words to existing music such as “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and “My Prayer” and co-writes with composers Michael Carr, Wilhelm Grosz and Nat Simon, among others. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he writes some 2,000 songs, of which over 200 become worldwide hits and about 50 are all-time popular music classics.

Kennedy’s father, Joseph Hamilton Kennedy, is a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). While growing up in the village of Coagh, Kennedy writes several songs and poems. He is inspired by local surroundings — the view of the Ballinderry River, the local Springhill House and the plentiful chestnut trees on his family’s property, as evidenced in his poem Chestnut Trees. He later moves to Portstewart, a seaside resort in County Londonderry.

Kennedy graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, before teaching in England. He is accepted into the Colonial Service, as a civil servant, in 1927.

While awaiting a Colonial Service posting to the colony of Nigeria, Kennedy embarks on a career in songwriting. His first success comes in 1930 with “The Barmaid’s Song”, sung by Gracie Fields. Fellow lyricist Harry Castling, introduces him to Bert Feldman, a music publisher based in London‘s “Tin Pan Alley“, for whom he starts to work. In the early 1930s he writes a number of successful songs, including “Oh, Donna Clara” (1930), “My Song Goes Round the World” (1931), and “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” (1933), in which he provides new lyrics to John Walter Bratton‘s tune from 1907.

In 1934, Feldman turns down Kennedy’s song “Isle of Capri“, but it becomes a major hit for a new publisher, Peter Maurice. He writes several more successful songs for Maurice, including “Red Sails in the Sunset” (1935), inspired by beautiful summer evenings in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, “Harbour Lights” (1937) and “South of the Border” (1939), inspired by a holiday picture postcard he receives from Tijuana, Mexico and written with composer Michael Carr. He and Carr also collaborate on several West End shows in the 1930s, including London Rhapsody (1937). “My Prayer,” with original music by Georges Boulanger, has English lyrics penned by Kennedy in 1939. It is originally written by Boulanger with the title “Avant de Mourir” in 1926.

During the early stages of World War II, while serving in the British Army‘s Royal Artillery, where he rises to the rank of Captain, Kennedy writes the wartime hit, “We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line.” His hits also include “Cokey Cokey” (1945), and the English lyrics to “Lili Marlene.” After the end of the war, his songs include “Apple Blossom Wedding” (1947), “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (1953), and “Love Is Like a Violin” (1960). In the 1960s he writes the song “The Banks of the Erne'”, for recording by his friend from the war years, Theo Hyde, also known as Ray Warren.

Kennedy is a patron of the Castlebar Song Contest from 1973 until his death in 1984 and his association with the event adds great prestige to the contest.

Kennedy wins two Ivor Novello Awards for his contribution to music and receives an honorary degree from the New University of Ulster. He is awarded the OBE in 1983 and, in 1997, is posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Kennedy dies in Cheltenham on April 6, 1984 at the age of 81. He is interred in Taunton, Somerset.


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The Death of Ernest Ball, Singer & Songwriter

ernest-ballErnest Roland Ball, American singer and songwriter, most famous for composing the music for the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” in 1912, dies in Santa Ana, California on May 3, 1927. He is not himself Irish.

Ball is born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 2, 1878 and receives formal music training at the Cleveland Conservatory. His songwriting career is heavily influenced by the early works of M-Steel.

Ball’s nascent career is much buoyed when James J. Walker, then a state senator of New York, asks him to write music for some lyrics he had written. He does, and the song “Will You Love Me In December as You Do In May?” becomes a hit. Walker later becomes known as “Dapper Jimmy Walker”, Mayor of New York City, a fortunate event for Ball’s career.

Ball accompanies singers, sings in vaudeville and writes sentimental ballads, mostly with Irish themes. He collaborates with Chauncey Olcott on many songs including “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” for which Olcott writes the lyrics. He writes other Irish favorites including “Mother Machree,” “A Little Bit of Heaven,” “Dear Little Boy of Mine” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By.” “Mother Machree” is made popular by the famous Irish tenor, John McCormick. He also works with J. Keirn Brennan on songs like “For Dixie and Uncle Sam” and “Good Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You.”

Ball becomes a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1907, and writes many American standards. He is also a fine pianist, and his playing is preserved on several piano roll recordings he makes for the Vocalstyle Music Company, based in Cincinnati in his home state of Ohio.

Ernest Ball dies on May 3, 1927 just after walking off stage at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana, California while on tour with “Ernie Ball and His Gang,” an act starring Ball and a male octet. He is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

A 1944 musical Irish Eyes Are Smiling tells the story of Ball’s career and stars Dick Haymes and June Haver. His grandson is the guitar string entrepreneur Ernie Ball, great-grandson is singer-songwriter/content producer Sherwood Ernest Ball and his great-great-granddaughters are actress Hannah Marks and singer/songwriter Tiare’ Ball.


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Birth of Chauncey Olcott, Actor, Singer & Songwriter

chauncey-olcottJohn Chancellor “Chauncey” Olcott, American stage actor, songwriter and singer of Irish descent, is born in Buffalo, New York on July 21, 1858. His mother, Margaret (née Doyle), is a native of Killeagh, County Cork.

In the early years of his career Olcott sings in minstrel shows, before studying singing in London during the 1880s. Lillian Russell plays a major role in helping make him a Broadway star. When the producer Augustus Pitou approaches him in 1893 to succeed William J. Scanlan as the leading tenor in sentimental operettas on Irish themes, Olcott accepts and performs pseudo-Irish roles for the remainder of his career.

Olcott combines the roles of tenor, actor, lyricist and composer in many productions. He writes the complete scores to Irish musicals such as Sweet Inniscara (1897), A Romance of Athlone (1899), Garrett O’Magh (1901), and Old Limerick Town (1902). For other productions he collaborates with Ernest Ball and George Graff, Jr. in works such as The Irish Artist (1894), Barry of Ballymore (1910), Macushla (1912), and The Isle o’ Dreams (1913). There are some twenty such works between 1894 and 1920.

Olcott is a good songwriter who captures the mood of his Irish American audience by combining melodic and rhythmic phrases from traditional Irish music with melancholy sentiment. Some numbers from his musicals become very popular, such as “My Wild Irish Rose” from A Romance of Athlone, “Mother Machree” from Barry of Ballymore, and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” from The Isle o’ Dreams. Sometimes he uses tunes from others, such as that of the title song from Macushla from Irish composer Dermot Macmurrough (pseudonym of Harold R. White) or Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (Irish Lullaby) by James Royce Shannon for his production Shameen Dhu (1914).

In 1925, a serious illness forces Olcott to retire and he moves to Monte Carlo, Monaco where he dies of pernicious anemia on March 18, 1932. His body is brought home and interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Olcott’s life story is told in the 1947 Warner Bros. motion picture My Wild Irish Rose starring Dennis Morgan as Olcott. The film’s plot is based on the biography by Olcott’s widow, Rita Olcott, Song in His Heart (1939).

In 1970, Olcott is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


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Death of Songwriter & Lyricist Jimmy Kennedy

jimmy-kennedyJames Kennedy, a Northern Irish songwriter and lyricist, dies in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England on April 6, 1984. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he writes some 2,000 songs, of which over 200 become worldwide hits and about 50 are all-time popular music classics. Until the duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Kennedy has more hits in the United States than any other Irish or British songwriter.

Kennedy is born near Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. His father, Joseph Hamilton Kennedy, is a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary, which exists before the partition of Ireland. While growing up in Coagh, Kennedy writes several songs and poems. He is inspired by local surroundings such as the view of the Ballinderry river, the local Springhill house and the plentiful chestnut trees on his family’s property, as evidenced in his poem Chestnut Trees. Kennedy later moves to Portstewart, a seaside resort.

Kennedy graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, before teaching in England. He is accepted into the Colonial Service, as a civil servant, in 1927.

While awaiting a Colonial Service posting to the colony of Nigeria, Kennedy embarks on a career in songwriting. His first success comes in 1930 with The Barmaid’s Song, sung by Gracie Fields. Fellow lyricist Harry Castling, introduces him to Bert Feldman, a music publisher based in London‘s “Tin Pan Alley,” for whom Kennedy starts to work. In the early 1930s he writes a number of successful songs, including Oh, Donna Clara (1930), My Song Goes Round the World (1931), and The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (1933), in which he provides new lyrics to John Walter Bratton‘s tune from 1907.

In 1934, Feldman turns down Kennedy’s song Isle of Capri, but it becomes a major hit for a new publisher, Peter Maurice. He writes several more successful songs for Maurice, including Red Sails in the Sunset (1935), inspired by beautiful summer evenings in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, Harbor Lights (1937) and South of the Border (1939), inspired by a holiday picture postcard he receives from Tijuana, Mexico, and written with composer Michael Carr. Kennedy and Carr also collaborate on several West End theatre shows in the 1930s, including London Rhapsody (1937). My Prayer, with original music by Georges Boulanger, has English lyrics penned by Kennedy in 1939. It is originally written by Boulanger with the title Avant de Mourir in 1926.

During the early stages of World War II, while serving in the British Army‘s Royal Artillery, where he rises to the rank of Captain, Kennedy writes the wartime hit, We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line. His hits also include Cokey Cokey (1945), and the English lyrics to Lili Marlene. After the end of the war, his songs include Apple Blossom Wedding (1947), Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (1953), and Love Is Like a Violin (1960). In the 1960s he writes the song The Banks of the Erne, for recording by his friend from the war years, Theo Hyde, also known as Ray Warren.

Kennedy is a patron of the Castlebar International Song Contest from 1973 until his death in 1984 and his association with the event adds great prestige to the contest. He wins two Ivor Novello Awards for his contribution to music and receives an honorary degree from the New University of Ulster. He is awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983.

Jimmy Kennedy dies in Cheltenham on April 6, 1984 at the age of 81, and was interred in Taunton, Somerset. In 1997 he is posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.


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Birth of Singer-Songwriter Van Morrison

Sir George Ivan Morrison, best known as Van Morrison, Northern Irish singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is born on August 31, 1945 in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard electrician, and Violet Stitt Morrison, who had been a singer and tap dancer in her youth.

Known as “Van the Man,” Morrison starts his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands, covering the popular hits of the time. He rises to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead vocalist of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he records the garage band classic “Gloria.” His solo career begins under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records buys out his contract and allows him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Though this album gradually garners high praise, it is initially a poor seller.

Moondance (1970) establishes Morrison as a major artist, and he builds on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. He continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” “Domino” and “Wild Night.” An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream of consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and the lesser-known Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic soul.”

Van Morrison has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he is knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Van Morrison performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, 2015 | Image: Getty)


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Death of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Composer & Bandmaster

patrick-sarsfield-gilmorePatrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Irish-born American composer and bandmaster, dies in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 24, 1892. He lives and works in the United States after 1848. While serving in the Union Army during the American Civil War, Gilmore writes the lyrics to the song When Johnny Comes Marching Home, the tune taken from the old Irish antiwar folk song, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. This is published under the name Louis Lambert.

Gilmore is born in Ballygar, County Galway, on December 25, 1829. He starts his music career at age fifteen, and spends time in Canada with an English band. Already a fine cornet player, he settles in Boston, Massachusetts in 1848, becoming leader of the Suffolk, Boston Brigade, and Salem bands in swift succession. He also works in the Boston music store of John P. Ordway and founds Ordway’s Aeolians, a group of blackface minstrels. With the Salem Band, Gilmore performs at the 1857 inauguration of President James Buchanan.

In 1858, Gilmore founds “Gilmore’s Band,” and at the outset of the American Civil War the band enlists with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteers, accompanying General Ambrose Burnside to North Carolina. After the temporary discharge of bands from the field, Governor John Albion Andrew of Massachusetts entrusts Gilmore with the task of re-organizing military music-making. General Nathaniel P. Banks creates him Bandmaster-general.

When the war ends Gilmore is asked to organize a celebration, which takes place in New Orleans. That success emboldens him to undertake two major music festivals in Boston, the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 and the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival in 1872. These feature monster orchestras of massed bands with the finest singers and instrumentalists, including the only American appearance by “waltz king” Johann Strauss II, and cements Gilmore’s reputation as the leading musical figure of the age. Coliseums are erected for the occasions, holding 60- and 120,000 persons. Grateful Bostonians present Gilmore with medals and cash, but in 1873 he moves to New York, as bandmaster of the 22nd Regiment. Gilmore takes this band on acclaimed tours of Europe.

On September 24, 1892, back in the United States preparing an 1892 musical celebration of the quadricentennial anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘ voyage of discovery, Gilmore collapses and dies in St. Louis. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York, where his wife is later interred.

In many ways Gilmore can be seen as the principal figure in 19th-century American music. He holds the first “Promenade Concert in America” in 1855, the forerunner to today’s Boston Pops. He sets up “Gilmore’s Concert Garden,” which becomes Madison Square Garden. He is the Musical Director of the Nation in effect, leading the festivities for the 1876 Centennial celebrations in Philadelphia and the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. In 1888 he starts the tradition of seeing in the New Year in Times Square.

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.


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Van Morrison Inducted Into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

van-morrisonVan Morrison, known as “Van the Man” to his fans, is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, on January 23, 1993.

Born George Ivan Morrison in Belfast in 1945, Morrison has received six Grammy Awards (1996-2007), the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into the Irish Music Hall of Fame (September 1999) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (June 2003). In 2015 he is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

Morrison’s influence can readily be heard in the music of a diverse array of major artists and according to The Rolling Stone’s Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, “his influence among rock singers/song writers is unrivaled by any living artist outside of that other prickly legend, Bob Dylan. Echoes of Morrison’s rugged literateness and his gruff, feverish emotive vocals can be heard in latter day icons ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Costello.”

Morrison is inducted into the Hall along with luminaries Ruth Brown, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, and Etta James. In his induction speech of Morrison, the Band’s Robbie Robertson says, “In the tradition of the great Irish poets and the great soul singers, he is the Caruso of rock and roll.” Morrison becomes notable as the first living inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not to attend his own ceremony. Robertson accepts the award on Morrison’s behalf.

This “Caruso of rock and roll” and magnificent songwriter is also one of the most curmudgeonly live performers in rock and roll history. The satirical Onion newspaper writes of him, “Morrison deserves a spot in the Rock Hall based on his record-breaking streak of 4,256 consecutive shows performed without cracking a smile.”