Tommy Makem was born on November 4, 1932 and died on August 1, 2007. He was born and raised in Northern Ireland. He was an Irish folk musician who was internationally celebrated. He was also an artist, poet, and storyteller.
Makem is best known for his collaboration with the four Clancy brothers, known to the music world as The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Makem played the long-necked 5-string banjo, as well as the guitar, tin whistle, and bagpipes. He was a baritone singer.
Makem was introduced to music by his parents (his father was a fiddler), and he was active in the St. Patrick’s Church choir for 15 years. He claimed to never have learned to read music. In 1955 he arrived in the United States, settling in New Hampshire. The following year he moved to New York to seek a career in acting.
In 1961 The Clancys and Makem were signed to Columbia Records. The 1960’s saw sell out concerts for The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at such venues as Carnegie Hall. They also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show, and performed for President Kennedy. 1n 1969 Makem left the group to pursue a solo career; however, in 1975 he performed with Liam Clancy at an Ohio folk festival.
From there forward the two performed together as Makem and Clancy, recording many albums together. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Makem performed with Clancy but also solo on The Irish Rovers television show. Makem continued to perform solo and with Clancy through the 1990’s. He established the International Festival of Song in South Armagh in 2000.
On the personal front, Makem was married to Mary Shanahan (a native of Chicago) for 37 years. The couple had four children together. Mary died in 2001, six years before Makem died after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He is buried in Dover, but his musical legacy lives on: His three sons perform as The Makem Brothers. Their genre is folk. Upon Makem’s death, Liam Clancy noted, “He was my brother in every way.”
Makem earned three honorary doctorates (University of New Hampshire; University of Limerick; University of Ulster), and he was awarded the World Folk Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He, along with the Clancy Brothers, was listed among the top 100 Irish-Americans of the 20th century. Tommy Makem’s achievements also include dozens of recordings, guest recordings, and videos.