Key: John McCormack, His Own Life Story

Pdf Key, Pierre V. R., John McCormack, His Own Life Story, Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1918
Size:102.6MbytesModified: 2 June 2011, 11:16

John McCormack: His Own Life Story transcribed by Pierre V. R. Key is an 1918 biography of the world famous Irish tenor Count John McCormack (1884-1945). McCormack was a celebrated performer who sang classical opera and also popular ballads and music hall favourites.

John Francis McCormack was born in Athlone the son of mill workers with a family of eleven children. He was educated by the Marist Brothers in Athlone before studying in Summerhill College, Sligo. From an early age he was a talented tenor and he won the Feis Ceoil gold medal in 1903. Among the competitors was James Joyce who later become more famous as a writer. Both men became good friends. In 1906, McCormack met Lily Foley and the couple married and had two children.

Recognition of McCormack's promise as a tenor and a fundraising drive, enabled him to travel to Italy where he was trained by Vincenzo Sabatini, perfecting his famous breath control. He is said to have been able to sing 64 notes in one breath. McCormack made his operatic debut in Savona and the following year perfomed in Pietro Mascagni's famous Scilian based opera Cavalleria Rusticana at Covent Garden, London. In 1909 he began performing in the United States and became a naturalised American citizen in 1917.

During the Great War 1914-1918, McCormack recorded the popular song It's A Long Way To Tipperary which was sung by Irishmen who fought with the British Army. McCormack was also an Irish nationalist and recorded rebel songs and ballads, supported Irish Home Rule and later supported Irish independence from Britain which was achieved in 1922 after a violent conflict.

Initially McCormack was known as an Italian operatic tenor but he also began to perform concert recitals and recordings. At first these were made on phonograph cyclinder before the invention of gramaphone discs in later years. McCormack also made radio performances and appeared in motion pictures which by the 1920s included sound. He starred in the first British colour film Wings of the Morning (1937) and had a small part in the classic Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane (1941).

McCormack became fabulously wealthy and hugely famous with a global audience. He owned apartments in London and New York. At different times he lived in Hollywood, California, England and Moore Abbey, Monasterevan, Co. Kildare. McCormack lived in luxury, collected art, owned race horses, motor cars and yachts, enjoyed tennis and befriended Hollywood movie stars. He became a philanthropist who supported many Catholic charities. McCormack made recordings of religious hymns and sang at the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. He was made a Papal Count by Pope Pius XI in 1928 and also received several papal knighthoods.

In 1938 he officially ended his career at the Royal Albert Hall, London but the outbreak of World War II, saw him sing in support of the Red Cross and to boost morale. But in the early 1940s his health was failing and he died in September 1945. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin.

Count John McCormack was a major influence on subsequent Irish tenors who also had internationally successful careers especially Frank Patterson (1938-2000). Patterson, emulating his hero McCormack, was a devout Catholic, won the Feis Ceoil, recorded popular ballads, opera and religious music and was awarded papal knighthoods. He entertained world leaders and even appeared in movies starring as a tenor in The Dead (1987) directed by Irish-American director John Huston, based on James Joyce's short story.


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