Thomas 'Tommy' Makem (November 4, 1932 – August 1, 2007) was an internationally celebrated Irish folk musician, artist, poet and storyteller, best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He played the long-necked 5-string banjo, guitar, tin whistle, and bagpipes, and sang in a distinctive baritone. He was sometimes known as "The Bard of Armagh" (taken from a traditional song of the same name) and "The Godfather of Irish Music".
He emigrated to the United States in 1955, carrying his few possessions and a set of bagpipes (from his time in a pipe band). He went to work in a mill in Dover, New Hampshire; but in 1956, a mill accident crushed his hand. With his arm in a sling, he sought out the Clancy Brothers in New York to make music.
The Clancys were signed to Columbia Records in 1961. The same year, at the Newport Folk Festival, Makem and Joan Baez were named the most promising newcomers on the American folk scene. During the 1960s, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed sellout concerts at such venues as Carnegie Hall, and made television appearances on shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. The group performed at The White House for President Kennedy. They also played in smaller venues such as Gate of Horn in Chicago.
Makem left the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career. In 1975, he and Liam Clancy were both booked to play a folk festival in Cleveland, Ohio, and were persuaded to do a set together. Thereafter they often performed as Makem and Clancy, recording several albums together. He once again went solo in 1988.
In the 1980-90s, Makem was a principal in a well-known New York Irish music venue, "Tommy Makem's Irish Pavilion." This E. 57th Street club was a prominent and well-loved performance spot for a wide range of musicians. A random list of performers and visitors includes Paddy Reilly, Joe Burke, and Ronnie Gilbert. Makem was a regular performer, often solo and often as part of Makem & Clancy, particularly in the late fall and holiday season. The club was also used for warm-up performances in the weeks before the 1984 reunion concert of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at Lincoln Center.
In 1997 he wrote a book, Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland, and in 1999 premiered his own one man theatre show, Invasions and Legacies, in New York. His career includes various other acting, video, composition, and writing credits. He also established the Tommy Makem International Festival of Song in South Armagh in 2000.
Makem died following a lengthy battle with lung cancer in Dover, New Hampshire. He continued to record and perform until very close to the end. Paying tribute to him after his death, Liam Clancy said, "He was my brother in every way
His sons Shane, Conor, and Rory ("The Makem Brothers") and nephew Tom Sweeney continue the family folk music tradition. He also had one daughter Katie Makem-Boucher and two grandchildren Molly Dickerman and Robert Boucher. His wife, Mary predeceased him in 2001.
Makem was a prolific composer/songwriter. His performances were always full of his compositions, many of which became standards in the repertoire. Some, notably "Four Green Fields", became so well known that they were sometimes described as anonymous folk songs. During the fall of the Iron Curtain, Makem often proudly told the story that his song "The Winds Are Singing Freedom" had become a sort of folk anthem among Eastern Europeans seeing a new future opening before them.
Makem's best-known songs include "Four Green Fields", "Gentle Annie", "Red is the Rose", "The Rambles of Spring", "The Winds Are Singing Freedom", "The Town of Ballybay", "Winds of the Morning", "Mary Mack", and "Farewell to Carlingford".
Makem had a gripping stage presence – the result of years of public performance, a charismatic personality, and a bard's voice. An army of friends and fans attended his frequent concerts, many recognizing each other at far-flung venues. Performances frequently included the following familiar elements:
Makem made dozens of recordings. A partial discography is available at (see additional links below):
Specific examples follow. (solo recordings only)
*These last two are available on "From the Archives" - Shanachie CD
*This is available as "An Evening With Tommy Makem" - Shanachie CD
Following releases all available on Shanachie CD unless noted otherwise
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