Obituary Mick Moloney: Distinguished musician and folk music scholar who had a tremendous influence in preserving and enhancing traditional music


Mick Moloney is an active and accomplished traditional musician, a member of the Emmet Folk Group and The Johnstons who were at the forefront of what became known as the “Ballad Boom” of the 1960s. It had an influence. great in preserving and enhancing Irish music at home and abroad.

e later became a leading folk music scholar in the United States and, according to his obituary in New York Timeswas “a recording artist, folklorist, concert presenter and professor who advocated for traditional Irish culture and encouraged female instrumentalists in the male field. dominate”.

When he died at his apartment in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, at the age of 77, he was professor of music at New York University’s prestigious center for Irish studies, Glucksman Ireland House. It was less than a week before he did what he still loves most, performing on stage at the Maine Celtic Festival.

“He’s a great man,” said photographer Roy Esmonde, who collaborated with him during the lockdown on a video series called Inspired by Memory: Songs by Mick Moloneyin which he played with many musicians and used his vast knowledge of folk music to explain the origins and history behind songs and tunes.

Esmonde, originally from Kilkenny, said: “He was generous with a fault, a very dedicated, passionate and kind person. In the hours after the All-Ireland hurdles final, they analyzed the match over the phone, with Limerick man Moloney eulogizing the Allies victory.

“He was always on the move. When you call him, you have to ask where he is, because he could be anywhere in the world,” Esmonde said.

Moloney was found dead in his apartment on Wednesday, July 27, after failing to make an appointment with a publisher to discuss one of his many projects.

Michael Moloney, also known as Mike or Mick, was one of seven children born in Limerick. His father is an air traffic controller at Shannon Airport and his mother is an elementary school teacher. He studied guitar and mandolin and graduated from the tenor banjo, which became his favorite and for which he was voted the best player in the world for many years.

At a time when there was little traditional music in cities like Dublin and Limerick, teenager Moloney took himself to Co Clare to listen to pub performances and record local musicians, so he could learn to play their own tunes.

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He went to Dublin to study economics at UCD, and met other musicians influenced by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Around 1966, he teamed up with Donal Lunny and Brian Bolger to form the Emmet Folk Group, who were moderately successful, but later better known as Emmet Spiceland, after he left. .

Around 1969, he and Paul Brady joined The Johnstons, a folk group founded in Slane, Co Meath, by family members, Adrienne, Lucy, and Michael Johnston, whose father, Marty, owned a bar wine in the village. With the arrival of Moloney and Brady, Michael Johnston left, but they continued to have a string of successful albums including The Johnstons, Give a damn and Barley corn.

Moloney plays the banjo and mandolin and along with the various members of the group arranges much of the music. In addition to playing traditional songs in Ireland, Europe and the US, they also adapt the music of contemporary musicians such as Joni Mitchell and Shay Healy, incorporating songs into their repertoire.

After leaving the band around 1971, he worked briefly in London, before emigrating to the US in 1973. Based in Germantown, Philadelphia, he continued to earn a living as a musician. folklore for much of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Among his projects is The Green Fields of America, an unconventional touring group, formed to collect and document the evolution of ethnic music in America. A variety of musicians and dancers are involved in the project including Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, who have continued their international star search with the original. Riverdance.

In 1992, Moloney received his PhD in folklore and music from the University of Pennsylvania. From then until his death, he taught folklore and Irish studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, Villanova, and New York University. But his interests go far beyond Irish tradition and folklore.

In the years that followed, he became an ardent supporter of Appalachian, Galatian, African and Jewish music. Among the albums he has produced are If it’s not for the Irish and the Jewwhich featured a 1912 song of the same name. He was also an avid old hall renaissance and Tin Pan Alley Irish/American songs, like Ireland Must Be Heaven Because My Mother Came From There and My Irish Rosiewhich was loved by many generations of earlier Irish immigrants.

He recalls in Mick Moloney’s Songbook how he became interested in these old songs after being offered a collection of 3,000 tracks from the time. He didn’t have the money to buy them, and when he did, they were bought by actress Grace Kelly last week from under his nose. He later amassed his own collection, which now resides in the library of New York University.

“At the heart of the Irish-American experience is a sense of movement, from country to country, from a rural area to a more complex way of life,” he told New York Times in 1996. “It was the feeling of being pulled from across the ocean. There is a deep sense of loss. “

He also championed a new wave of female singers and musicians to traditional music and organized a festival in Manhattan in 1985, part of a festival titled Cherish the Ladies, which eventually led to the formed a band of the same name. As a musician, composer and producer, he recorded about 125 albums during his lifetime.

In 1999 Hillary Clinton, then first lady of the United States, presented him with a National Heritage Scholarship, the highest honor in folk and traditional art in America. Professor Moloney, as it is officially known, regularly visits Ireland, including in May, when he played at the Johnstons Folk Festival in Slane.

Paul Brady said on his website that he was “shocked” by the sudden death of his former bandmate. “A source of musical experience has disappeared,” he lamented.

He was married three times, to Miriam Moloney, the late Philomena Murray from Duleek, Co Meath, and to Judy Sherman, all of which ended in divorce. He is survived by his son Fintan and his siblings, Violet Morrissey and Dermot, Kathleen and Nanette Moloney, and his partner in Bangkok, Sangjan Chailungka.

“There are thousands of tunes in the tradition, so when we sit down to rehearse, our job is really not to find the material, but to rule out the material, because, well, we’re going to play them all. all of them if possible,” he said to The Wall Street Journal in 2015. During his lifetime, he played it all. Obituary Mick Moloney: Distinguished musician and folk music scholar who had a tremendous influence in preserving and enhancing traditional music

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