The following article is copyright 1990 by Frederick M. Manning. It is reproduced here in its entirety with the permission of the author.



John McCormack

by

Frederick M. Manning

Remarks to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 
(The Racquet Club, Philadelphia, PA, January 16, 1990)



 
  
Before we begin, let me express my appreciation to Dick Torpey and Frank Guinn for the privilege of discussing with you tonight the life and career of John McCormack. For several reasons, I think it is fitting that we are remembering Ireland's greatest representative in this century to the world of music.

Music is the celestial art form and harmony is its essence. In his thirty-five years on the concert stages of the world John McCormack saw himself as a humble ambassador of harmony to people everywhere. This historic organization also knows something about harmony, since its purpose for more than two centuries has been to foster that spirit among persons of Irish descent. Here too we are reminded of John McCormack, who was a member of, and a symbol for, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.

It is additionally appropriate that we should be discussing our subject in this city and nearby the scene of many memorable moments in the artist's life.

John McCormack was very fond of Philadelphia, where he visited early in his American career and where he returned in triumph many times. Over the decades, whether it was at the Academy of Music, Town Hall or the Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street, his immaculate style and pure lyric tenor voice were on display often, in opera and concert.

At Independence Hall he gained American citizenship, a gift he cherished and kept to the close of his days. And just across the river in Camden, he made many of his unforgettable recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

John had a host of friends in this area including Michael Francis Doyle, the international lawyer who was his personal attorney, Patrick Stanton of Irish radio fame, and even several of the Archbishops of Philadelphia. His brother and business manager James was a resident of Ardmore. And it was in Philadelphia that The John McCormack Society of America was founded in 1950, just five years after his death. The associations between the singer and this region are numerous, significant and, thankfully, continuing.

Born in Athlone a century and five years ago, he was one of eleven children of Andrew and Hannah Watson McCormack. I may surprise you now with a little-known fact of history. This legendary Celtic songbird - the prototype and role model for all Irish tenors since - had decidedly Scottish roots.

Actually, three of John's grandparents were Scottish and he was the only one of the grandchildren who inherited Irish features. Even his father, who was born in the west of Ireland, had lived in Scotland prior to coming home to work in the woolen mill in Athlone. An influence from the land of the thistle lasted with John and is not concealed in ballads he recorded from that country, often sung with his mother much in mind.

Happily, his popularity was every bit as great in Scotland as it was in Ireland. Without attempting to draw attention to the point, he represented some common bonds between the homelands of his parents which have united the countries in kinship since the dawn of Christianity.

Still it may come as another surprise for you to know that this most Catholic of personages - a Count of the Holy Roman Empire and a member of the Papal Household - was the son of a mother born into the Presbyterian faith.

All in all, it seems clear that John's outlook on life, which was both international and ecumenical, derived from traits acquired through his parents.

The historic town of Athlone - capital of the Irish Midlands - was no Newport, however, in the last part of the nineteenth century. In John's own words, the McCormack family's living conditions were "genuinely poor as the goods of the world go but fortunate in those things which make for happiness in the home."

Both parents were musical. John's voice can still be heard on record saying "I don't recall a day when we didn't sing together in our home in Athlone--my father and my dear mother and all of us children."

Andrew McCormack sang in the church choir in town, as would John. He was a handsome man with a leonine head and a great shock of white hair. He was also a very direct, even blunt, speaker, a person not easily given to dissembling. John's mother is remembered by the family as a kindly soul, a voracious reader and the possessor of an iron will. It is not too surprising, then, that John had the same characteristics in his makeup.

Andrew was very opposed to the idea of his son pursuing music as a career, something he did not regard as of professional status. He also never understood why in time such an extraordinary fuss was to be made about John. Even after the fame became worldwide, Andrew used to declaim that he was a much better singer in his youth and would have had a greater success except for problems he had with his vision!

Formal education came early to John when his parents trotted him off at 3 1/2 years to the Marist Brothers. There he was to stay for the next eight years and to receive his first schooling in music. Before he left Athlone for Summerhill College in Sligo, his ancestors' county, he had already had his first solo performance. It consisted of the young lad being boosted onto a table at a reception for a visiting Bishop and being invited to sing. "Jessie, the Flower of Sweet Dunblane" was the song and you are very much on the mark if you have guessed that it was a Scottish -- rather than Irish -- ballad.

At Summerhill, which he entered on an academic scholarship, we have the testimony of one of his classmates that he was a gangly youth with a wealth of dark curls and a happy, outgoing nature. He was very keen on sports, particularly football, and was quick of foot. His schoolmates detected early on a passion for consuming chocolates, a trait which his lean frame could accommodate but which probably contributed to the loss of his teeth a decade later.

John was an exceptional student and when he was graduated in 1902 he took with him top honors in languages and mathematics. At first he had been a reluctant performer in school musicals, showing an interest for theatre instead, but eventually he came under the spell and determined to make singing his life.

Back home, Athlone was a very musically-conscious town and his vocal abilities, while untrained, did not go unnoticed. He was asked to sing frequently at church and civic socials. It is no doubt hyperbole but George Jessel, the old Toastmaster General, used to say that when John sang as a, lad in Athlone even the larks hung their heads in shame for the beauty of his voice.

The big opportunity came when a traveling mandolinist heard him and insisted, over Andrew McCormack's objections, that John should sing for Dr. Vincent O'Brien, a leading musical figure in Dublin. May I be forgiven a measure of reflected pride when I tell you that the name of this key figure in John McCormack's career was Frank Manning.

So it was that in 1903 John went to audition for Dr. O'Brien and for a position in the Palestrina Choir at the Pro-Cathedral. More than forty years later John could still remember every moment of that glorious day and the kindly man who greeted him at his door with the words: "You are welcome, John, and I'm glad to see you in my house."

The anxious tenor sight read the aria from "Messiah" to Vincent O'Brien's instant approval. The actual endorsement was, "Young man, don't even think of taking up any other career."

Not only did John gain a position in the Palestrina Choir that day but he found a willing coach for his next step up the music ladder -- entrance that same year in the tenor competition of the Feis Ceoil, the National Music Festival.

Under the tutelage of Dr. O'Brien, the man whom he regarded as his oldest and dearest friend in the world of music, he learned his test pieces, "Tell Fair Irene" by Handel and the old Irish ballad "The Snowy Breasted Pearl."

We come now to May 14, 1 903 and the turning point in the career. Here is the singer's recollection of that moment:

"When I arrived at the hall Tost all of the other tenors had appeared and among themselves had picked out the winner. However, I was on the platform of fame, number 14. I sang my pieces, the audience applauded and Maestro Denza, in making the award, said: 'I don't have to tell you who the winner is as you yourselves have chosen him!' I didn't know until afterwards that no other tenor had been applauded!"

John was now firmly launched on his journey. There was to be no turning back, no matter what the early disappointments would be. In June of 1904 he traveled to the New World for the first time -- to St. Louis for the International Exposition. Here he had been engaged, along with other of his country's artists, to sing in a little setting built around the theme of an Irish village.

His participation was to be very short-lived. When John saw that the show included a performer dressed up to be a "stage Irishman" he took offense to the caricature of his homeland and gave the management an ultimatum -- either remove the individual or he would leave the show. He lost that test of wills but proved at an early age both his loyalty to Ireland and his readiness to put principle ahead of profit. These characteristics were his throughout life.

The engagement was not without benefit for John as he became friendly with another member of the troupe, Lily Foley, also a Gold Medalist in the same Feis. She was to become his wife just two years later.

The historians will want to know that the first song which American audiences ever heard from the lips of John McCormack was "My Beautiful Irish Maid," a ballad by the American composer and singer Chauncey Olcott. Not many years later the two men became close friends and John's peerless singing of Olcott's music helped insure lasting popularity for both.

In the audience for John's appearance in St. Louis was another person destined to become both world-famous and a close associate of John's, Will Rogers, the beloved American humorist, who attended the show while on his honeymoon. A generation from then John and Will occupied adjoining cottages at Fox Studios in Hollywood when John made his one and only feature-length movie.

After that first engagement it was not until late in 1 909 that American audiences were next to hear from John McCormack. And when they did a wondrous transformation had overcome the young ballad singer. He was now an established performer in opera, a recording artist of growing stature and a father of two young children.

In just five years he had taken giant steps up the ladder of renown. That ascent began with a trip in 1905 to Italy for serious training in the voice under Maestro Vincenzo Sabatini. Sabatini it was who exclaimed when John auditioned for him "I can do little except teach you how to use your voice properly. God has done all the rest."

McCormack's studies in Italy were comparatively brief, covering just twelve months in 1905 and 1906. However, the experience was both rigorous and decisive in shaping the talent. Through daily exercises John learned thoroughly the Italian language, so much so that more than one person of distinction would later be deceived into thinking that his command of tongue and vocal coloring meant he was Italian by birth.

Surprisingly, Sabatini did not teach his pupil the masterpieces of opera or the great classics of song. He focused instead on production and technique and left it to John to educate himself in the other aspects. At last he released him from his studies with the words "You need not stay with me any longer. All you have to do now is to go out and make your fortune. With that voice the world is yours!"

It is an odd fact of history that when John first sang in opera in Italy and when he made his earliest records in London he did not always do so under his own name. Instead he used an Italianate adaptation of his Christian name and his father-in-law's surname, Giovanni Foli, for his operatic engagements. The reason apparently was a concern that the locals would not be able to pronounce his Irish name. On a few discs of the time he is even more anonymous, appearing as John 0'Reilly, a tag borrowed from a priest-friend in Dublin who had given him his first concert engagement after the Feis.

By the fall of 1907 he had sung his way into history's annals by becoming the youngest principal tenor ever engaged in London's Royal Opera House. He was not yet 24 years. At Convent Garden he met the vocal giants of his time and was an overnite sensation. Members of the Royal Family were among his admirers, and he was invited to sing in Command Performances for the King and Queen.

Oscar Hammerstein the First was intrigued by the prospect of an Irishman singing grand opera in America and brought John here in 1909 to be one of the mainstays of his Manhattan Opera Company, a vehicle he was using to compete with the fabled Metropolitan. Again fortune was to smile beneficently on the young man. In the next several years he would extend nationally and internationally his reputation as a superb operatic tenor of the lyric variety.

He appeared with the Boston, Philadelphia,and Chicago Opera Companies as well as with the Manhattan and later with the Metropolitan, whose cast was headed by the primo tenore of that Golden Age, Enrico Caruso.

John had first heard Caruso in opera in London while on his honeymoon. The effect on him was staggering. In his memoirs he wrote:

"That voice still rings in my ears after thirty-six years. It was like no other voice in the world. The memory of it will never die."

John was so in thrall of the great Neapolitan that evening he parked himself outside the stage door and contrived to brush up against the singer.

This so that he could receive Caruso's "scusa" and bask in the knowledge that "the one and only" had spoken to him. He also bought a picture of his idol and inscribed it to himself1 the better to impress his friends and cement that first meeting. The two men would later share hearty laughs over these recollections.

Everyone needs a hero to emulate in their life and for John it was Caruso. When his friend died so prematurely in 1921 John was devastated by a sense of loss which was both professional and personal. Asked by a reporter for a comment on Caruso's passing, he said "God bless a great artist who never said an unkind word about another colleague." Told that he was now regarded as the next Caruso, John's response was immediate: "I object to that characterization. The king has died and no one has arrived to take his place."

Caruso's admiration for John was every bit as great and there was never to be a shred of jealousy between them. Nor should there have been since they really ruled over different worlds.

One day the two met by chance on a street in Boston. Caruso, the voice of gold, was greeted by McCormack, the voice of silver, with the question, "How is the world's greatest tenor?" The response from the Italian was, "Since when, John, have you become a baritone?"

On another occasion John was preparing to go on stage one evening when there was a knock at his door and in strode Caruso himself. John was almost speechless, so great was his surprise and honor. "But, Enrico," he said, "aren't you also singing tonite?" "So I am, John, but do you think I could let you go on without coming over and wishing you well?"

Caruso was very much taken by John's diction, his phrasing and the pianissimo notes which were his trademark. I was told by Enrico Caruso, Jr. that his father said "If I could sing in Italian like John McCormack then I would be the world's greatest singer." The implications of that statement, my friends, are overwhelming. And Cyril McCormack remembers yet a day when the great Neapolitan came to the McCormack home to quiz John on how he achieved certain vocal effects.

But it wasn't just Caruso who found John an irresistible talent. Melba considered him her principal tenor and engaged him to tour with her in Australia. Tetrazzini made no attempt to conceal her adoration and would not renew with the Metropolitan until she was assured he would partner her. Toscanini begged John to sing under his baton, and Jean deReszke, the reigning operatic tenor prior to Caruso's emergence, wrote John that he was the "true redeemer of the bel canto." Our own Max de Schauensee considered him the classic image of a concert singer.

It was in opera that John first visited Washington in 1910. President Taft, himself of Irish ancestry, was in the audience that evening and sent word backstage that he would like the young singer to join him for lunch the next day. John went, of course, but was so nervous that he circled the grounds of the White House twice before he gained sufficient composure to enter.

A few months before there was another magical moment when the McCormacks went to Rome for the first time and were received in audience by Pope Pius X. The future Saint laid his hands on John's head and said "The famous tenor - I bless you and your.work." The young boy from Athlone had come a long way in the world, all before his 26th birthday.

Around 1912 John began to attack the concert trail in earnest. He was shrewd enough to see that his light lyric tenor was no match for operatic orchestras and for him to continue in that field would not contribute to a long career. He also did not find the theatrical settings very believable and was self-critical of his acting skills. In his travels he saw that opportunity beckoned for him on the concert stage before audiences comprised of lovers of the ballad and not a few of his countrymen, settled in far-flung parts of the world.

It was a happy and profitable coincidence that he was joined early in his concert days by Edwin Schneider, soon to be his beloved "Teddy." Schneider was ten years older than John and already a well-known accompanist when he joined up. They were to be together for twenty-five years, virtually the full length of John's American career. "Teddy" was much more than John's pianist. He was a teacher and friend, a gentle soul and a perfect foil for the high-strung, extroverted artist. He became a close part of the McCormack family and though the two men were in daily contact with one another, under all sorts of conditions, through the many years of their friendship they never had a single serious falling out. It mattered not a bit that they had neither background nor religion in common.

Schneider it was who helped John perfect his singing in German and in the art songs of France and Russia. He always felt that for him the high point of John's concert years was a program he gave in Berlin in 1 923, one for which the critics were ecstatic. Comments appeared in papers the day after that "it took an Irishman to show us some new Schubert songs," a statement Teddy interpreted as a compliment to John's tireless research into the realm of song literature.

Teddy Schneider outlived his old friend by several years and could eulogize him as follows: "As a musician he had the divine spark which denotes genius coupled with a prodigious capacity for work. He could read even the most difficult music on sight and we spent hours at a time at the piano playing all of the great masterpieces. He could invest even the simplest song with his superior artistry. But John was not only a great singer. He was a true and loyal friend, a staunch Catholic and a generous, loving father."

I do not propose to dwell on the details of John's years in concert. We do not have the time for that tonight and it is all part of history, having been written about in many volumes.

I hope, however, that you already know he was, quite simply, the most successful recitalist ever. All over North America, the British Isles, Europe, Australia and even in the Orient and in South Africa he performed before capacity audiences. In the best decade of a thirty-five year career the gross proceeds of his programs exceeded five million dollars. Who else could do some of these things:

Indeed, many of the box office standards he set have never been reached even in this age of mammoth concert halls and plentiful funds for entertainment. Consider for example a tour of Australia which he made before his 30th birthday that saw him sell out 20 concerts in Sydney and 16 in Melbourne. So much for overexposure!

He seldom canceled despite the rigors of travel in those days and a heavy workload often extended on short notice by a benefit engagement for a worthy cause. And his programs clearly were not modest ones - in the first part they comprised serious songs and the great classics and were followed by the popular ballads which his audiences could never get enough of. His encores were always more numerous than the dozen he sang from the printed section of the program.

In America he became an institution with the musical public. On an international scale, he was a beloved artist, the most expressive vocalist of his time and a cultural idol for millions.

To aspiring singers he seemed a lorelei because of his ability to create the illusion that singing stylishly and beautifully was easy. Established artists, however, knew the extent of his sacrifice. One of them, Lillian Nordica, spoke for all when she wrote this note: "You deserve your great success. Your work last evening was the most remarkable I have ever heard on the concert stage."

Lily McCormack remembered an evening when John was singing before an overflow audience which extended to the seating of several hundred on stage behind the tenor. A family friend remarked that it was a wonderful thing to see a young man in the prime of his life holding in tow and captivating, such a large gathering. But the friend went on to remark that it was also a disturbing sight in that the crowd too had a control over the singer through the demands it was putting on him and that John's great generosity could result in taking years off his life. It was an accurate prophecy for someone who was later to develop emphysema and to be taken from us at the age of only 61. Like Caruso, his devotion to the art caused him to become his own executioner.

Along with Caruso, McCormack was one of the giants of the phonograph industry. To this day, it is difficult to determine whether the phonograph made artists like Enrico and John world-famous or whether it was these immortals who secured the stability of the medium.

John's career in the recording studio covered 38 years. He made more than 800 discs and his sales were both world-wide and huge. It probably would take a battery of accountants to tell us how many copies wound their way into collectors' hands. I note that a recent article puts the distribution above 200 million, an awesome figure when you consider that his contract with the Victor Company gave him ten percent of the sales price of his records.

We know for certain that his yearly royalties were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and at times greater than those of the next two singers combined. Paul Hume has reported that the sales of John's best-known record, "I Hear You Calling Me," a ballad which was also his signature song, exceeded 4 million copies, making it the leading seller in the English-speaking world.

As if he was not already a seminal figure in the history of entertainment, he also scored artistic triumphs in two other fields which emerged during his career. John was the first artist of stature to sing on the radio. He appeared on the initial trans-continental and trans-Atlantic broadcasts on consecutive New Year's Days in the mid-1920's. Later, he would do a lot of radio work including a 44-week series of his own and guest appearances with popular singers Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee, both of whom worshipped John. On one broadcast, McCormack's singing of "Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair" brought him 30,000 pieces of fan mail.

In 1929 he made his only full-length motion picture and was paid $500,000. for his efforts, a staggering sum for those days and equivalent to $20 million in today's currency. Prints of the film survive and are a priceless treasure for those of us too young ever to have seen the great man in concert.

With his income he was able to live not just a comfortable but a splendid existence. At various times he had a large apartment on Park Avenue, a farm in Connecticut, a mansion in Ireland ,and a home in California high on a hill overlooking Hollywood.

He was an avid collector whose tastes ran to paintings by the great masters, sculpture (particularly if done by Rodin), priceless violins, manuscripts of Franz Schubert and precious jewels which he lavished on his wife. He owned thirteen Rolls-Royces in a row and at one time had twenty-five thoroughbreds stabled in Ireland. With the exception of the ponies, who never returned John's large investment in them, and an unprofitable venture raising cattle his acquisitions were generally sound and reflected a shrewd eye for value, form or line.

Up close, he was a fascinating and unforgettable character. He had a lifelong passion for knowledge. The McCormack children recall that there was no hope of anybody in the home reading their many newspapers until their father, a late riser, had gone through them stem to stern. Hours and days later he could still quote verbatim what he had read. He held forth on all sorts of subjects: politics with statesmen in several countries, nuances of every kind of music with the best in the field, theology with his many friends in the clergy, and even poetry with experts like Edna St. Vincent Millay. He enjoyed arguing every side of a topic and did not respect you if you could not make it a good exchange.

After nights spent in John's company, Rachmaninoff was heard to say that he was startled to find a tenor who could think. Toscanini said to him "John, if you'd never have had a voice at all you would still be a great musician."

Those who knew him well thought that with his intellect and drive John could have been a success in any profession he chose. He might actually have made a very fine living as a lawyer or a surgeon. Indeed, though it is a bit gruesome to contemplate, he often went to hospitals on his day off to observe intricate operations.

From his earliest days as a struggling performer in Milan and London he had a superhuman energy for working at his craft. The eminent critic Ernest Newman put it very well when he wrote that John's greatness in the masterpieces resulted from his being steeped in perfection in the little things. He never sang a song in concert unless he had thoroughly researched every part and intention of it and unless he rehearsed it 500 times, or more.

He spent long hours at the piano daily honing his art. And when John made his records there was no hope of their being released if they did not first meet his acid test of approval.

A large man at 6 feet and well over 200 pounds, he was very athletic. He loved swimming, tennis, cricket and many other sports. He had a gymnasium in his home in Connecticut where he might put the gloves on with his friends Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. At "San Patrizio," his place in California, he had both a pool and a tennis court. However, he did not care very much for hunting, believing that the advantage was all with the tracker.

In sports he displayed the same unbounded enthusiasm he did in other areas, a trait which occasionally landed him in trouble with his associates. Cyril has said that his father could not do anything in moderation which he was keen about but would go at it like a bull at a gate, frequently sweeping other members of the family in with him. He was not one for letting the other person win and yet he hated to see his opponent play badly.

John was a stickler for detail and punctuality. He could not bear to have unanswered mail or unpaid bills at home. And you could set your watch by the moment his concerts began, always at the time stated.

Above all, he was a gregarious individual who cherished the company of his friends, so long as they were, like him, happy and young in their thoughts. He was much in demand on the social circuit where Rosa Ponselle remembered him as the star attraction always. Canon Sydney MacEwan, the great Scottish tenor and the voice most like John's in the middle years, told us that John's forceful personality and quest for knowledge insured his domination of all conversations which he entered.

McCormack entertained lavishly and preferred having people in his home to going out. Woe unto any host or hostess who invited John and Lily in the hope of coaxing a performance out of him. For, when he was of a mind for it, his tongue could be very sharp indeed. In a situation like this he might scorch the other person with the question "If you invited a tailor to your party would you ask him to press a pair of pants?" But he had no problem at all with singing for hours in his own home, or in yours, so long as it was not imposed on him.

On the day of a concert, he was invariably a bundle of nerves. Like Caruso, he realized how high the standards were set for him by his own past performances. To try to calm himself he would take long walks which would include an extended visit to church. In the wings before he went on always he could be seen fingering the beads of his rosary. When, at last, the concert and its many encores had been brought to an end, he would be drained and would quickly escape the building for a late dinner and the company of his intimates.

John had an artist's temperament -- high-strung and sensitive -- but little of the oversize ego which usually accompanies. A famous portrait by Orpen well captures his vulnerability. As a very public figure, he could be hurt by the inevitable jealousies and little criticisms which await the prominent. While he could sting back if provoked, and was not above landing the first punch, it bothered him if he saw his words give pain to friends and he would move quickly to patch things up. The motto on his family crest reflected his needs: "A cat stroked is gentle."

He did not know how to tell the half-truth or to be diplomatic when he felt deeply about matters. Because of these traits he wasn't capable of keeping confidences and would ask you not to tell him something if it involved that kind of commitment.

John had no false modesty about his talents. He knew that he owed all to a gift from the Creator, to a lot of hard work on his part, along with a bit of luck along the way and the fortunate companionship of good health and friends. He well-recognized the person most responsible for his success and happiness when he dedicated his memoirs "to the ideal wife of a singer - I married her."

A few words about John McCormack's brotherhood and his devotion to his God are not inappropriate for this program and place. When the First World War broke out, though he was not yet an American citizen, John took to President Wilson his request to accompany our boys overseas. Wilson, a great admirer of John's, suggested instead that he stay here and help to keep the fountains of sentiment flowing.

Thereafter, all through that struggle, the singer turned over 100% of the proceeds of his concerts to freedom's cause. He also bought Liberty Bonds in a six-figure amount and was a leading fund-raiser for the American Red Cross. And he sent huge 'shipments of food and tobacco to British troops, became one of the founders of the White Cross in Ireland and gave benefit concerts during and after the war for those most affected by that tragedy.

World War One was not without a personal sorrow for his family. Lily's brother and his wife went to a watery grave in the Atlantic as a result of a torpedo attack leaving their ten children in John's care and support.

A generation later he would repeat his wartime service for humanity and come out of retirement to tour all over England, under the most adverse conditions, for the British Red Cross. His colleagues remember his exceptional courage during the air raids and the insistence on broadcasting to the troops. In 1943 his health broke down under the strain and he was obliged to stop. It was the last turning point in the singer's life. Never again would his physical condition be the same.

McCormack's charities were enormous, like the man himself. No one had to remind John that his life was both blessed and directed. He returned the gift often and generously throughout life. He used to tell his son that money was meant for spending, not hoarding, and that when doing so it was a good thing to keep your friends in mind. He would only become annoyed if publicity or praise attended to his charities as he felt that this was a matter between him and his Creator.

And long before the practice became widespread, John McCormack was showing respect and kindness to the American Negro. Harry Burleigh, for example, was a popular song-writer of the day whom John considered both a good friend and an ornament to his race. He included several of Burleigh's songs on his programs and the composer referred to John as "my great benefactor."

One time, when Burleigh came to visit John at his hotel and was asked to enter by the back door an indignant McCormack descended upon the management with a demand for an apology and a threat to never patronize the hotel again.

Many of John's appearances in benefits developed from his own initiative. One example: In the 1920's, flash floods wreaked havoc on a black community in the South. Will Rogers announced that he was arranging a program to benefit the unfortunate. He received an immediate telegram from John that he was coming on for it, regardless of date.

John would no more disguise his devotion to his church than he could conceal his Irishness. In his youth there had been some talk about his becoming a priest, not that unusual a possibility for a young lad in Ireland at the time.

Indeed, in his first grade class in Athlone, he was the only boy who did not later receive Holy Orders.

His deep spirituality and manifest good works resulted in his receiving seven separate commendations from the Holy See beginning when he was just 29 with the title of Commander of the Holy Sepulcher, the oldest Papal order. Later, he would receive the ultimate honor when he was named a Papal Count with the additional distinction of having the title conferred in heredity on his descendants.

Of all the privileges which came to him, he valued most highly the use of a private oratory in his home. And he always considered the ultimate moment in his career to have been a day in June 1932 when he arose before a throng of 500,000 persons jammed into Dublin's Phoenix Park for the closing ceremonies of the Eucharistic Congress and sang the glorious prayer of Thomas Aquinas, the Panis Angelicus. Not long before he died, he even said that the piece of music which had made the greatest impression on him was the hymn "Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All," when sung by little children after their First Communion.

My friends, we could go on into the night talking about John McCormack, but I am in danger of overstaying my welcome.

You have been a marvelous audience and it has been a joy to be with you. In years to come, it will still be a delight to remember tonight's tribute to the Meistersinger. I think we should thank God and St. Patrick for the inspiring example and many blessings represented in this fellow Friendly Son.

His voice was a sweet and a lovely one and it changed lives. His story is a beautiful tale of a very special gift extended to its fullest by a towering intellect, immense integrity and a total dedication to his art. Most importantly, in winning so much from this world, the best news is that he did not lose the one thing necessary.

More than 100 years after his birth, and four decades after his death, the legend and the legacy of the man continue.

I want to close now by quoting, first, from just three of the eulogies which followed his passing in 1945 and then from a more recent appreciation.

From Dorothv Caruso, widow of the great Enrico:

"John McCormack was so deep in lovingness, so wide in understanding and so high in humility that his voice, for all its beauty, might long ago have ceased but still the measure of his great heart would have acclaimed him an immortal."

From Doctor Vincent O'Brien, his first music teacher: 

"Let us remember John in the way he himself would have dearly wished - by a prayer to the Giver of all good gifts that he may find that Peace of God which he himself so often gave to troubled hearts the world over with the gentle message of his song. May he sleep with the sunshine of fame on his slumber."

From Gerald Moore, his last accompanist: 

"This great minstrel will never be forgotten. He is enshrined in the hearts of his people for his singing lifted them up and showed them beauty and romance."

In Dublin today a large oil portrait of the singer dominates the foyer of the National Concert Hall. President Patrick Hillery, in dedicating that area to the tenor in 1982, delivered the nation's homage with these words:

"By his superb art John Count McCormack won the hearts of mankind and brought enduring honor and renown to his native country. It is little wonder that he is one of the best loved and remembered sons of his race."

"For his incomparable greatness he will forever be acclaimed wherever the glory of a unique human voice is appreciated. In his lifetime he brought pleasure and inspiration to millions. It is our good fortune that his voice.has not been stilled but lives on in record, an exquisite treasure, part of the rich heritage of the whole human race, worthy to be treasured forever."

I am happy to note that John McCormack did much for us and we have not 
forgotten him.

Thank you and good evening.


Frederick M. Manning

Philadelphia, January 1990




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