An Early St. Patty’s Day Gift

A couple of days ago I had one of those true music discovery moments, while listening to KUSF 90.3. These happen less and less these days, with my radio listening being greatly diminished, and entertainment being so much more “programmed”, via my iPod/iTunes. It seems most of us now revel in the fully customizable listening experience they provide. But, radio discoveries remind me of my (even) younger days, when that was more commonly a mode for being introduced to artists, and I felt a sense of wonder accompanying the feeling of unlimited musical horizons.

A sonorous bass voice tenderly wafted from my speakers. “Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling… From glen to glen, and down the mountain side…”.

(No, this isn't my car radio, but it conjures up the lost charm I'm going for.)

(No, this isn't my car radio, but it conjures up the lost charm I'm going for.)

I knew the song immediately, but I couldn’t identify the singer. I have always loved Danny Boy. At my grandmother’s recent funeral a version was sung with the same melody but an adapted text. The song is one of the truest musical embodiments of longing for me. It has a sweet sentimentality that is undeniable. Honestly, it is really the melody itself (the Irish tune Londonderry Air) that speaks to me each time, and less so the text.

Over a decade ago I enjoyed Aprile Millo’s performance of it on The Johnny Carson Show. Ah, I miss the days when real grand divas/divos would perform on night shows, or any popular tv forum for that matter… and I know you do too ;-). And, Eleanor Steber’s version from CD 2 of the “Eleanor Steber In Concert (1956-58)” double album.

Well, the singer I heard that day was Paul Robeson. He is probably most famous in the mainstream for the ’36 film version of Show Boat, and his performance of Ol’ Man River (which has never been matched). I certainly know him well, but had never heard his beautiful rendition of this song. He possesses legendary endowment in the cavernous basso profondo nether regions. But, what I didn’t know is how tenderly he could float and caress a higher phrase. That was largely why I was surprised to hear it was him. Also, there is something so disarmingly simple and real about this recording that I didn’t even suspect it was an “opera singer”.

I hope you enjoy it too. And Happy St. Patty’s Day!

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