Mick Moloney obituary: accomplished musician and folk music scholar who had an enormous influence in preserving and improving traditional music
Mick Moloney was an energetic and accomplished traditional musician who, as a member of the Emmet Folk Group and the Johnstons, was at the forefront of what became known as the “Ballad Boom” of the 1960s. had an enormous influence in preserving and improving Irish music at home and abroad.
He later became a leading scholar of folk music in the United States and, according to his obituary from New York Timeswas “a recording artist, folklorist, concert presenter and teacher who championed traditional Irish culture and encouraged female instrumentalists in a male-dominated field”.
When he died in his apartment in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, at the age of 77, he was a professor of music at New York University’s prestigious center for Irish studies, Glucksman Ireland House. Less than a week ago he was doing what he still loved most, performing at the Maine Celtic Festival.
“He was an amazing man,” said photographer Roy Esmonde, who collaborated with him throughout the lockdown on a series of videos titled Inspired by Memory: Mick Moloney Songbookin which he performed with a variety of musicians and using his vast knowledge of folk music explained the origin and history behind the songs and tunes.
“He was generous to the end, a very dedicated, passionate and decent person,” said Esmonde, from Kilkenny. In the hours after the All-Ireland hurling final, they analyzed the game over the phone, with Limerick man Moloney singing of the treaty side’s victory.
“He was always on the go. When you called him you had to ask him where he was because he could be anywhere in the world,” Esmonde said.
Moloney was found dead in his apartment on Wednesday, July 27, after failing to show up for an appointment with an editor to discuss one of his many projects.
Michael Moloney, also known as Mike or Mick, was one of seven children born in Limerick. Her father was an air traffic controller at Shannon airport and her mother a teacher. He studied guitar and mandolin and switched to the tenor banjo, which became his instrument of choice and on which he was voted the best player in the world for several years.
At a time when there was little traditional music in cities like Dublin and Limerick, teenager Moloney traveled to Co Clare to listen to sessions in pubs and record local musicians, so he could learn to play their own tunes.
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He came to Dublin to study economics at UCD and met other musicians influenced by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Around 1966, he joined forces with Dónal Lunny and Brian Bolger to form The Emmet Folk Group, which enjoyed moderate success, but would later become better known as Emmet Spiceland, after his departure.
Around 1969 he and Paul Brady joined The Johnstons, a folk group formed in Slane, Co Meath, by family members Adrienne, Lucy and Michael Johnston, whose father, Marty, owned a pub in the village. With the arrival of Moloney and Brady, Michael Johnston left, but they went on to have a string of hit albums, including The Johnstons, worry about it and barley corn.
Moloney played banjo and mandolin and, along with various band members, arranged much of the music. As well as playing traditional songs in Ireland, Europe and the United States, they have also adapted music from contemporary songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Shay Healy, incorporating the songs into their repertoire.
After leaving the group around 1971, he worked briefly in London, before emigrating to the United States in 1973. Based in Germantown, Philadelphia, he continued to earn his living as a folk musician for much of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Among his projects was The Green Fields of America, an unconventional touring group of musicians formed to collect and record the development of ethnic music in the United States. The line-up of musicians and dancers who took part in the project included Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, who went on to achieve international fame with the original river dance.
In 1992, Moloney earned a doctorate in folklore and music from the University of Pennsylvania. Between that date and his death he taught folklore and Irish studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, Villanova, and New York University. But his interests went far beyond the confines of Irish folk and tradition.
In the years that followed, he became a passionate advocate for music of Appalachian, Galatian, African and Jewish roots. Among the albums he produced was If it wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews, which included a 1912 song of the same name. He was also an enthusiastic restorer of the old music hall and Irish/American songs of Tin Pan Alley, such as Ireland must be heaven because my mother came from there and My Irish Rosiewho were so beloved by generations of ancient Irish emigrants.
He recalled the Mick Moloney songbook how he became interested in these old songs after being offered a collection of 3,000 sheet music from that era. He didn’t have the money to buy them, and when he did, they had been bought the week before by actress Grace Kelly. He then amassed his own collection, now at the New York University Library.
“At the heart of the Irish American experiences is a sense of displacement, from country to country, from a rural way of life to a more complicated way of life,” he told the New York Times in 1996. “There’s this feeling of a tugboat across the ocean. There is a deep sense of loss.
He also championed a new influx of female singers and musicians into mainstream music, and organized a festival in Manhattan in 1985, a section of which was titled Cherish the Ladies, which eventually led to the formation of a band of the same name. As a musician, arranger and producer, he participated in the recording of some 125 albums during his life.
In 1999, Hillary Clinton, then First Lady of the United States, presented her with a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor in folk and traditional arts in America. Professor Moloney, as he was officially known, made frequent visits to Ireland, notably in May when he performed 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 lost source of musical experience,” he lamented.
He was married three times, to Miriam Moloney, the late Philomena Murray of 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 tracks in the tradition, so when we sit down to rehearse our job isn’t really to find material, it’s to exclude material, because we would play them all if we wanted to. could,” he told the the wall street journal in 2015. During his life, he played them all.