Legendary Irish singer and storyteller Tommy Makem died Wednesday, August 1, 2007 in Dover, New Hampshire after a long battle with lung cancer. Surrounded by family and friends, Makem passed away at a nursing home, putting his career of spreading the Irish soul for more than five decades to a sad end.
Born and raised in Keady, Ireland in the County Armagh, Makem initially came to the United States to pursue an acting career but instead teamed up with musician brothers Tom, Liam and Paddy Clancy to perform as the band The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. With banjo and tin whistle, Makem was a natural fit into the group.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem wowed audiences and wooed critics and soon were appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, the Morning Show and PM East and PM West, as well as concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Steeped in enough Irish charm to lure the most cynical of American crowds with such hits as "Four Green Fields," "Gentle Annie," and "Red Is the Rose," Makem wove his song and storytelling magic spell with his rich, baritone voice, making the Irish ballad a standard for up-and-coming folk musicians, the likes that included Bob Dylan, who pointed to the Clancy Brothers and Makem as powerful influences in the folk music scene of the 1960s.
With recordings that included Come Fill Your Glass With Us, The Rising of the Moon: Irish Songs of Rebellion and Hearty & Hellish, Tommy Makem made the decision to leave the Clancy Brothers and establish a solo career. Touring Australia, Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales over the span of two years, Makem made room for television with series for Scottish Television, the BBC, Ulster Television and a network series for the CBC in Canada.
It was a chance festival booking in Cleveland, Ohio that reunited Tommy Makem with his old friend Liam Clancy. The Makem/Clancy collaboration revived and lasted well into the 1980s, resulting in several platinum and gold albums and even an Emmy nomination for a New Hampshire Public Television series.
Over the years, the beloved Bard of Armagh came to realize his influence through many awards. Tommy Makem received the gold medal for his contribution to Irish culture from the Eire Society of Boston, the Genesis Award along with Liam Clancy, a Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of New Hampshire, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Folk Music Association and a place on Irish America Magazine’s Top 100 Irish Americans of the Century.
Mr. Makem, battling cancer and keeping up a touring schedule, had just returned from Ireland where he received an honorary degree in Belfast and visited his home in Armagh. He was 74.