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Mick Moloney

Music, News, People

Mick Moloney & Friends At the Kelly House

Occasionally, there is an occurrence of the kind of inspired synchronicity that causes one to say, “Ah, yes, it was meant to be.”

Wednesday evening at the restored Kelly House in East Falls was just that sort of occurrence. An enthralled audience of about 50 listened as Irish musician and folklorist Mick Moloney presented, for the first time, the Princess Grace Irish-American Sheet Music Collection. The talk was followed by the performance of several of the songs by Mick, Athena Tergis and Liz Hanley.

The Kelly House, in a partnership with the Center for Irish Studies at Villanova University and its director, Dr. Joseph Lennon, is fulfilling one of the missions set forth by Prince Albert of Monaco when he purchased the family home several years ago. With the assistance of, and collaboration between, family members Susan Kelly Von Medicus and her brother John B. Kelly III in Philadelphia, the house is taking on a new life and purpose.

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Arts, Music

Outbid By a Princess, Mick Moloney to be Reunited With a Royal Collection of Irish Music

Irish musician and folklorist Mick Moloney recalls a time when he was still living in Philadelphia, and L.A.H. O’Donnell, who had retired from EMI Records and lived in Chestnut Hill, contacted him with an intriguing offer: a vast trove of Irish-American sheet music.

“He was offering the collection for $3,000,” Moloney says. “Well, at the time, I didn’t have $300.”

Scholar that he was and is, Moloney looked about for another suitable home for the music, which hearkened back to the Tin Pan Alley days and a little before. No one, including the Smithsonian, had the budget. That was the last he heard of the music, although he never forgot about the offer.

Ten years later, when his circumstances had improved, he called O’Donnell again.

“I asked, ‘Is that collection still for sale?’ He said, ‘Mick, you’re one week too late. Someone just bought it.’”

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How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

The beautiful 19th century St. Malachy’s Church in North Philadelphia will be the setting on Sunday, November 1 for the annual Mick Moloney and Friends concert to benefit the church and school founded by Irish immigrants and the Sisters of Mercy.

Limerick native Moloney, who is both a musician and historian, first started the concert more than 25 years ago when he was living in Philadelphia and working at the University of Pennsylvania. The catalyst for the concert was his friendship with then pastor, Father John McNamee, whose book, “Diary of a City Priest,” chronicled his years ministering to the poor in North Philadelphia.

Moloney has been credited with renewing interest in traditional Irish music in the Philadelphia region. McNamee turned a small Catholic parish school into a showpiece for the benefits of a Catholic education: Most of its graduates go on to higher education; even its kindergartners test out at 10 percent above grade level in reading.

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Music, News

25th Annual Irish Concert With Mick Moloney and Friends

No question about it: the St. Malachy's crowd loved Mick Moloney.

No question about it: the St. Malachy’s crowd loved Mick Moloney.

Maybe the big anniversary had something to do with it, but it was one of the largest crowds ever for this grand tradition, the 25th annual concert benefiting St. Malachy Mission School in North Philadelphia.

Moloney, who spent many years in Philadelphia and is close friends with former pastor Father John McNamee, returns every November with a stellar lineup of musical talent. This year, Moloney’s “friends” included fiddler Dana Lynn; uilleann piper Joey Abarta; singer, guitarist and harmonica player Saul Brody; singer and guitarist Robbie O’Connell; accordion player Billy McComiskey; and two outstanding local fiddlers, Caitlin Finlay and Paraic Keane.

As always, it was all in a good cause: to help support what has been called “a beacon of hope” in a neighborhood that knows more than its fair share of hardship.

We were there from beginning to end, and we captured some photos we think you’ll like. And the pièce de résistance: A video capturing a huge blast of tunes by—fittingly enough—Philly’s prolific Irish tunesmith, Ed Reavy.


Another Successful Benefit for St. Malachy’s

Musician Billy McComiskey shows off the art work presented to each of the musicians.

Musician Billy McComiskey shows off the art work presented to each of the musicians.

Nearly 1,000 people filled the pews at St. Malachy’s Church in North Philadelphia on Sunday for the annual “Mick Moloney and Friends” concert that benefits St. Malachy’s School, an independent Catholic school that educates more than 200 minority children in a parish that was once Irish.

The families of many former parishioners return to St. Malachy’s every year to hear folklorist Moloney tell stories and jokes and play the traditional music that the parish’s founders—a group of Irish immigrants and the Sisters of Mercy– listened to in the late 1800s when St. Malachy’s was the “little church in the woods.”

This year, the Galway-born Moloney, who is professor of music and Irish studies at New York University, brought friends Billy McComiskey (accordian), Dana Lyn (fiddle), and Jerry O’Sullivan (uillean pipes), along with Saul Broudy on guitar and vocals with Dennis Gormley, one-half of McDermott’s Handy, on electric guitar. Also on hand: Pastor Kevin Lawrence and retired pastor John McNamee, along with student Jalesaa Figueroa, a 2007 graduate of St. Malachy’s who is now a senior at Little Flower High School.

Figueroa, who lives with her disabled grandmother, threw herself a benefit concert and dinner this year to cover her last year’s tuition at Little Flower. A soloist in St. Malachy’s choir, Figueroa was the star of that particular benefit—and she came to St. Malachy’s benefit to tell the audience that she owed everything to the school that needed their help.

Music, News

Irish Music for a Sacred Cause

Robbie O'Connell and Mick Moloney.

Robbie O'Connell and Mick Moloney.

Father John McNamee, the former pastor of St. Malachy Church, looked out onto the audience gathered for Sunday’s annual Irish music concert with Mick Moloney and friends, and marveled at how the tradition has helped keep the parish school open and thriving.

“The only way we can keep this school open,” he said, “is through our own effort. Thanks to you, we cost the archdiocese nothing.”

Keeping the school in business is a costly proposition, but it apparently pays big dividends to the kids who attend. Roughly 50 percent of students attending city public schools drop out before they finish high school—but St. Malachy’s kids determinedly swim against that discouraging tide. Ninety-five percent of the school’s students finish high school, Father Mac said.

Thanks to Mick Moloney and a small group of immensely talented fellow musicians—including fiddler Dana Lyn, uilleann piper Jerry Sullivan, accordion player Billy McComiskey, and singer Robbie O’Connell—the school acquired a healthy infusion of cash from the fans who nearly filled all the pews. It’s a tradition Moloney has carried on for over two decades. “Here it is 25 years, and here it is Mick’s still coming,” said Father Mac.

We have photos from the concert, and several videos. Check them out.

The videos: 

Mick Moloney and Friends Play a Medley of Reavy Tunes

The Emigrant and Lough Derg

Yesterday’s Men

The First Half Closer

An O’Carolan Tune

The House In The Glen/The Bohola Jig/Josie McDermott’s/Free And Easy

History, Music

Traveling with the Irish Down Tin Pan Alley

Limerick-born Mick Moloney, traditional Irish musician and NYU Professor of Music, admits to having once had a particular snobbishness toward the kind of Irish-American songs Bing Crosby used to sing. You know them: Songs that flaunted titles like “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?”

Speaking to a small but captivated audience at Villanova University last Tuesday evening, Moloney gave a lecture titled “If It Wasn’t For the Irish and The Jews.” It’s a moniker shared with both the 1912 song penned by the illustrious Tin Pan Alley song-writing duo of William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, as well as Moloney’s latest CD release. A CD that is the result of manifold years of research, and one that has culminated in an unabashedly uplifting celebration of just those kinds of Irish-American songs that Bing Crosby used to sing (go on…I dare ya…just try and not sing along to “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?”)

“I came to the United States in 1971, lured over to play at The Philadelphia Folk Festival, and then to study with Kenny Goldstein in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Folklore & Folklife,” Moloney said. “I did a lot of touring…and it was during a 1995 tour in the Midwest, the heartland of America, that it flashed in me exactly where these songs came from.”

The tour coincided with the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Irish Famine, and it was this observance, coupled with talking to second and third generation immigrants, that sparked Moloney’s epiphany.

“The immigrants that came to start a new life in America, they came from drama. They weren’t going to talk about the real Ireland, the place they were escaping. They wanted to present images of wholeness and happiness, a place of beauty and innocence where everything was good and wholesome.”

At the same time, the music business was changing. “Stephen Foster, the great grandson of Irish immigrants from County Derry, changed the music industry forever. His song, ‘The Old Folks at Home’ sold 100,000 copies when it was published in 1851. No song had ever sold more than 5,000 copies before that.“

“But by the 1880’s and 90’s…the music business shifted from an Irish to a Jewish enterprise…[and] despite the now overwhelming predominance of Jewish entrepreneurs and performers, Tin Pan Alley continued to issue streams of songs with Irish and Irish-American themes.”

Intrigued by this early twentieth century collaboration between Jewish and Irish American songwriters, Moloney began his concentrated digging into the bygone days of America’s booming songwriting business during the years between 1880 and 1920.
Some of the most curious examples of the blurring of the Irish-Jewish cross-cultural lines show up in the surprising number of songwriters and musicians who changed their names to sound either more Jewish or more Irish, accordingly, in order to further their careers (or so they believed).

“There was the wonderful Nora Bayes, one of the most glamorous figures, she was kind of like the Madonna of her day. She started to sing and be associated with Irish songs, like ‘Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?’ and ‘When John McCormack Sings a Song.’ She became the darling of Irish America. Turns out that Nora Bayes wasn’t Nora Bayes at all. She was Theodora Goldberg, and she had kept her Jewish identity completely hidden her whole life because she figured, inaccurately in the 1890s, that the business was going to stay Irish as it had always been in the 19th century. And this kind of ambiguity, people hedging their bets, started. And there was an awful lot of it. I’m amazed at how much of it there was.”

Among the other for-instances: William Jerome, co-composer of “If It Wasn’t For the Irish and the Jews” was in truth the son of County Mayo famine immigrant Patrick Flannery. He changed his name when he saw the dominant figures in the business shifting from Irish to Jewish.

And there was also David Braham, who collaborated on songs like “Maggie Murphy’s Home,” with son-in-law Ned Harrigan. David’s last name was originally “Abraham.”

Moloney is nowhere near finished with this topic, “I’ve kind of figured out halfway into how the business switched from Irish to Jewish, but I haven’t figured out the why of it. Why did this happen? Why was this such a comprehensive wipeout, and the Irish turned their attention to politics and business?”

In the meantime, there is music to be savored. Moloney will officially launch “If It Wasn’t For the Irish and the Jews: A Tribute to the Irish and Jewish Influences on Vaudeville and Early Tin Pan Alley” on Saturday, October 24t at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre in New York City. He will be joined by a cast of musicians that include The Green Fields of America, Susan McKeown, Billy McComisky and Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.

Oh, and one little Irish Philly sidenote: Musician and publican Gerry Timlin, co-owner of The Shanachie Irish Pub in Ambler, has a harmony vocals credit on the CD!


Christmas Comes Early to the Shanachie

Guitarist John Doyle in a pensive moment.

Guitarist John Doyle in a pensive moment.

It was billed as a Christmas show. Think of it as a Christmas present.

Mick Moloney, with fiddler Athena Tergis and guitar great John Doyle, headlined at the Shanachie Pub in Ambler Thursday night. They were joined onstage, from time to time, by special guests, local fiddler Caitlin Finley and old-timey fiddle whiz Rafe Stefanini.  

There were just enough Christmas tunes along the lines of “The Holly and the Ivy,” to satisfy those who were looking for an early dose of holiday merriment. Mixed in were some of the vintage tunes Mick Moloney typically champions—including a great little song about some fairly lethal Christmas cake—and, between Tergis and Doyle, there were enough musical pyrotechnics to rouse the denizens of the jammed dining room and bar.

We’ve posted some photos from this wonderful concert, which Shanachie co-owner Gerry Timlin suggested might become a tradition.

Check them out.