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THE SOCIAL EDGE INTERVIEW: FOLKSINGER TOMMY MAKEM

by Maura Hanrahan

tommy makem with the clancy brothers
The Clancy brothers with Tommy Makem

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem became the world’s most famous Irishmen when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961.That same year the Newport Folk Festival chose Makem and Joan Baez the two most promising newcomers on the American folk scene. How right they were.

     Makem played with the Clancys –Paddy, Tom, and Liam– until 1969 when he embarked on a solo career. During the 1960s folk renaissance, he shared the stage with Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. He later reunited with Liam Clancy for 13 years. Among Makem’s many accolades is a recently issued postage stamp in his honor.

     But it all started in his mother’s kitchen in Keady, County Armagh, Ulster. Sarah Makem, Tommy’s mother, did not travel much beyond her hometown, but she knew more than 500 songs. In 1952, Sarah’s songs were collected by Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle and she recorded a signature tune for a popular show on the BBC World Service. Under Sarah’s influence, her youngest son learned to play the pipes, the whistle, the banjo, the drums, the piccolo, and the guitar.

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