Irish Flautist Mike Rafferty died Tuesday, September 13, 2011. He was 84. “On behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts, it is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of Irish traditional musician and 2010 NEA National Heritage Fellow Mike Rafferty,” said National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman. “Rafferty has devoted a lifetime to exploring, performing, and teaching traditional Irish music to students on both sides of the Atlantic. We join many others in the traditional music community and beyond in mourning his death while celebrating his life and lasting legacy.”
Born in 1926, Mike Rafferty grew up in Ballinakill, East Galway, Ireland and emigrated to the United States in 1949. In 1976, he joined a group of Irish musicians invited to perform at the Smithsonian Institution’s Bicentennial Festival of American Folklife. Rafferty subsequently toured with the premier Irish group Green Fields of America. He appeared on many recordings and has recorded three albums with his daughter Mary. Rafferty released his solo CD Speed 78 in 2004. At the age of 82 Rafferty produced The New Broom with New Jersey fiddler Willie Kelly, whom he mentored.
In addition to teaching privately and at the Catskills Irish Arts Week — the largest summer school devoted to traditional Irish music and dance in North America — Rafferty has taught through the New Jersey State Council on the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program. In 2003, he was named Irish Echo’s Traditional Musician of the Year.
In a 2010 interview with the NEA’s Josephine Reed, Rafferty noted, “I was very happy when they took up the Irish music here in America. There’s a lot of Irish people and they don’t know nothing about Irish traditional music. That’s as true as I’m sitting here and yet people with no Irish blood in them at all love it and play it very well indeed. . . . some of the older tunes . . . I love to play them. The novelty never wore off on them. The tunes, there was nice feelings in them.”