It was 30 years ago when I first laid eyes on the dark-haired beauty who took the stage to sing with the hyper dynamic trad music outfit out of Galway’s wild west, De Dannan.
She got her baptism of fire touring the U.S. singing the title track of their new album Song for Ireland, the symbolic anthem for all those smitten by Ireland’s Wild Atlantic beauty like its composer Englishman Phil Colclough.
The venue was one of the featured venues for live music back in the day, the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, and making her New York debut in 1983 was Mary Black. And the rest is history as they say, because this week she begins her Last Call tour coast to coast in the United States.
Performing in public for 35 years or so from her first gigs and recordings with General Humbert to her final recording, Stories From the Steeple, two years ago, the Dublin native has had a storied and highly successful career.
Reared on Charlesmont by her mother Patsy from the Liberties and Kevin from Rathlin Island off the Antrim coast, she shared a humble Dublin abode with four siblings, Shay, Michael, Martin and Frances. Both parents loved music and could play or sing and instilled a love of song in all their children. They were also blessed with wonderful voices individually and as we discovered later, a flair for harmonizing that lead to a couple of recordings and tours as the Black Family.
Theirs was a hardscrabble Dublin family existence back in the 1950s and 1960s like many others then. Mary Black was also a product of the folk music revival and she loved to sing, so she took advantage of every opportunity to do so starting in school choirs.
She met and married Joe O’Reilly, whose family owned Dolphin Discs record shops around Dublin. That union was key to launching a steady and prolific performance career spanning over 30 years as an artist fronting her own band and recordings. Many of those went platinum with sales in the hundreds of thousands, and year after year she won Ireland’s top female vocalist awards.
Black wasn’t an overnight success, but people like Christy Moore recognized her raw talent and ability to capture a song’s essence and sentimentality and helped guide her career.
Along the way she paid it forward for a number of other artists, including many of Ireland’s finest songwriters as her career mushroomed. And both Black and her producer husband did much for women in Irish music through Eleanor McEvoy’s song and recording A Woman’s Heart which dominated the charts for months.
Black led a balanced life as a mother of three and a touring musician responsible for the livelihoods of others in her band, and now she thinks the time is right for a grandmother of two to devote more of her time to her family and life and business at home with her husband Joe who is still deeply involved in the music business.
As the proud mother of two children (Danny O’Reilly of the massively popular Coronas and Roisin O’Reilly making her own way as a singer/songwriter) following in her footsteps in the music business and also Conor who works outside the music trade, she is happy to yield the limelight to them.
As Black gave so much thought to giving up the rigors of touring on the road, she also found the time to put her thoughts down on paper. With some coaxing and editing from her daughter she has just released an autobiography, Mary Black: Down the Crooked Road, dovetailing nicely with her final tour in the U.S. and Europe in the New Year. She writes in a clear linear fashion cleverly using song lyrics as chapter headings that help shape the very honest and personal tome.
Her tour begins this week this week at the Weinberg Center Maryland. On Sunday, October 26 at 8 p.m. she plays the City Winery in Greenwich Village before heading to the Midwest and the West Coast. Her last appearance in the New York area will be the Church of the Sacred Heart in Southampton, Long Island on Friday, November 7 and Infinity Hall in Hartford, Connecticut on Sunday, November 9, after her Saturday night date at the Berklee College of Music in Boston on Nov. 8.
The book will be available for purchase on tour or at the website www.mary-black.net.