Mick Moloney explores the roots of Irish music in America in this video from the Wall Street Journal, filmed around St. Patrick's Day 2015.
Moloney sadly passed away this week aged 77. The Co Limerick-born musician and historian is largely credited with making Irish music popular in America. He is best known for performing his hit songs "Green Fields of America", "The Regular Army O," and "Me Uncle Dan McCann".
In this beautiful video, the late great Irish American musician, author, and professor talks Irish music and his beloved tenor banjo during a rehearsal with musician Athena Tergis.
He notes in it: “I suppose on my tombstone, I want the inscription, banjo driver, because the tenor banjo is my main instrument."
Mick Moloney was born November 15, 1944, in Limerick, Ireland. He began playing tenor banjo as a teenager. There was not a lot of traditional instrumental music being played where he lived, but he listened to American folksingers and especially enjoyed the music of the Weavers and Burl Ives. As he got older, he used to go to neighboring Ennis, just over the River Shannon in County Clare, to listen to music in the pubs. He tape-recorded the tunes so he could "bring them home" to learn them.
Growing up, he learned to sing traditional songs and to play guitar as well as mandolin and tenor banjo. During his formative years in Ireland, he played with the Emmet Folk Group, and later the Johnstons. His participation with those bands shaped his perspective on and honed his skills in Irish music. He spent five years touring and recording with the Johnstons.
Moloney came to the United States in 1973 to pursue graduate studies in folklore at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he later earned a doctorate. Moloney was a driving force in Irish music in the United States and devoted much time to the documentation and presentation of traditional Irish music and musicians. By recognizing and recording skilled musicians, he was highly influential in bringing Irish music out of pubs and parlors and placing it on stages and in concert halls. In 1977, Moloney co-founded the Irish music group Green Fields of America.
By the mid-1980s, the number of Irish American women involved in Irish traditional music was growing, and in 1985, Moloney championed a concert series in New York City showcasing female musicians. Among them was the traditional Irish music group, Cherish the Ladies, whose leader Joanie Madden received an NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 2021.
In 1999, Moloney was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the United States' highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
A folklorist, musicologist, arts presenter and advocate, professional musician, and professor of music and Irish studies, Maloney was a titan in music and scholarship. He recorded and produced more than forty albums of traditional music. In 2013, he received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the President of Ireland.