John McCormack: Irish Tenor

In his time John McCormack (1884-1945) was the most popular Irish tenor in the world, and Victor’s second most popular recording artist after Caruso. He did not play vaudeville that I have been able to ascertain, but strictly concert halls and opera, although his influence was great upon many a vaudeville singer, among them The Masked Singer and Allen McQuhae,

The son of Scotch-Irish mill workers, and one of 11 children, McCormack sang in church choirs in his native Athlone and later trained seriously in Italy. In 1904 he briefly socialized with James Joyce in Dublin who was then studying singing himself, and performed at the St. Louis World’s Fair. His recording career had begun by 1908, by which time he had toured as far as Australia. Songs he was associated with included “Mother Machree”, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, “I Hear You Calling Me”, “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and Boucicault’s controversial “The Wearing of the Green”. McCormack became a naturalized American in 1917.

In the mid ’20s through the ’30s, McCormack began singing regularly on radio, often presented by younger admirers like Bing Crosby (despite the operatic tenor’s disdain for mic-dependent crooners). In 1930 he starred opposite Alice Joyce in the Fox musical Song o’ My Heart. He was 46 by this point and getting long in the tooth to be a theatrical lead, regardless of acting ability so this experiment proved a one off, although he did have brief singing turns in the films Wings of the Morning (1937) and Citizen Kane (1941).

Suffering from ill health, McCormack finally retired from singing around 1943. He spent his last years in Ireland.

For more on variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.