John Count McCormack, the great tenor, on Athlone Community Radio 88.4fm ,

The great tenor, John Count McCormack, was one of the greatest singers of the recorded era. He drew audiences of Madonna-like proportions – in 1913, in a 6-month period, he gave 12 concerts in New York; 58,00 people attended these concerts with every concert a sell-out. At one concert, 7,000 were in the audience while 500 were turned away. All of this long before the era of the mass media. John was the last of the great stars of opera and classical music who was also a ‘pop’ star. But it was on the concert platform that he became a superstar. With Caruso’s death in 1921, McCormack was the world’s greatest singing star. At 23, he was the youngest tenor ever to sing a male lead at London’s famed Covent Garden; in 1913, “The Times” said he was “in the front rank of tenors”. From 1904 he made recordings over a period of nearly 40 years – some of these recordings have never been bettered in the hundred years since; a number of them are still hailed as benchmarks by which great singing is judged. It’s believed that his record sales have amounted to around 200 million – astronomical sales for somebody whose heyday was a century ago. In 1929 he was paid the colossal sum of $500,000 to act and sing in a film, “Song o’ My Heart”. His concerts were so often a sell-out. His singing partner in so many operas, the legendary Luisa Tetrazzini, described him as “The tenor with the God-given voice”. Tommy O’Brien said that McCormack, at his best, was “Miraculous”.
Irish ballads and folk-songs, German Lieder, English and Italian art songs, Mozart, Handel, Verdi, Puccini, Hugo Wolf, Schubert, Brahms – these and much more he sang like few others have done. “I Hear You Calling Me” became his ‘signature tune – not many pub-singers or street-singers ever attempt to sing it such is the memory of McCormack’s masterful recordings of it.
Athlone Community Radio 88.4fm with thanks to Community Radio Youghal and Jim Ryan from Dungarvan will bring you 4 Sixty-Minute programmes on the Great Man, commencing on Saturday April 11th at 4:30pm and on the three succeeding Saturdays at the same time. Hear some of McCormack’s many wonderful recordings along with information about his singing career and his life. There will also be, with reference to some of the acknowledged authorities on singing, an attempt to put his singing career and recorded legacy into some perspective.
Whether or not one likes a particular singer depends, ultimately, on one’s taste, but there is no disputing McCormack’s immaculate vocal technique. He deserves a hearing from a new generation in our country. His versatility as a singer means that he is a ‘great’ or ‘near-great’ in a wide variety of songs and arias – in what he did best (Mozart, Handel, Irish Ballads), he is unrivalled, and in many other areas of singing he is not far behind the very best. In short, one of the greatest singers of all time. When he died, the renowned and demanding critic, Ernest Newman, wrote: “There is no one to take his place”.
Our listeners will, in the end, judge for themselves.

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