Mick Moloney, musician and champion of Irish culture, dies at 77

Mick Moloney, a recording artist, folklorist, concert presenter and teacher who championed traditional Irish culture and encouraged female instrumentalists in a male-dominated field, died Tuesday at his Manhattan home in Greenwich Village. He was 77 years old.

Glucksman Ireland House NYU, the center for Irish studies at New York University, announced his death. No cause was given. Less than a week earlier, Mr. Moloney had performed at the Maine Celtic Festival in Belfast, Maine.

An immigrant from Ireland, Mr. Moloney was a pioneer scholar in the field of Irish-American Studies at NYU, where he was named a Global Distinguished Professor. The university houses its extensive collection of documents in its Irish America Archive. He reissued a wealth of music by 19th and 20th century Irish bands and introduced the music to a wide audience whose familiarity with Irish culture often did not extend far beyond commercialized Saint Patrick’s Day events.

A superb musician, Mr. Moloney sang and played guitar, mandolin and banjo, with the tenor banjo being his primary instrument. He was one of the founders in 1978 of Green Fields of America, a touring Irish interdisciplinary ensemble whose members include Michael Flatley, the founder of Riverdance, the theatrical show featuring Irish music and dance.

Mr. Moloney was passionate about exploring the connections between Irish, African, Galician and American roots music and organized numerous concerts and conferences highlighting these synergies. During a program of the “Celtic Appalachia” series he directed, presented in 2012 at Manhattan’s Symphony Space by the Irish Arts Center, Malian musician Cheick Hamala Diabaté performed on indigenous African instruments that predate the banjo. Mr. Moloney has also collaborated with Filipino singer Grace Nono, among other musicians.

Dr. Moloney’s research has extended to the often troubled relationships between Irish Americans and African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries; when he died he was working on a film called “Two Roads Diverged”, about how these communities found common ground through music and dance despite their antagonisms.

His scholarship also embraced Irish-Jewish relations. On an entertaining recording titled “If It Wasn’t For The Irish And The Jews,” Moloney pointed to the vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley collaborations between these two immigrant groups in America. (A verse asked, “What would this great Yankee nation really do / If there wasn’t a Levy, a Monahan or a Donohue?”)

Until the 1980s, instrumentalists in traditional Irish music were mostly men, but Mr. Moloney encouraged women to perform as well, organizing a festival in Manhattan in 1985 called “Cherish the Ladies” (the name of an Irish jig) and a concert the next day. year called “Fathers and Daughters”. He produced an album by the all-female band Cherish the Ladies titled “Irish Women Musicians in America”.

Mr Moloney, who has hosted folk music shows on US public television, was honored by the Irish government in 2013 as the recipient of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad. In 1999, then First Lady Hillary Clinton presented her with the National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts, given by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr. Moloney has mentored many later NEA Fellows, including flautist Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies.

He wrote a 2002 book called “Far From the Shamrock Shore: The Story of Irish-American Immigration Through Song” along with a CD of songs. And he conducted regular tours of Ireland, showcasing Irish culture through concerts, studio tours, castle tours and pub crawls.

“At the heart of the Irish American experience is a sense of displacement, from one country to another, from a rural way of life to a more complicated way of life,” Moloney told The New York Times in 1996. “There’s this feeling of a tugboat across the ocean. There’s a deep sense of loss.

Michael Moloney was born in Limerick, South West Ireland, on November 15, 1944, one of seven children born to Michael and Maura Moloney. Her father was the head of air traffic control at Shannon Airport, west Limerick, and her mother was the headmistress of a primary school in Limerick.

Mick, as he was known, studied tenor banjo, mandolin and guitar in his youth, becoming particularly drawn to the banjo’s “wild sound” after first hearing it in the 1950s, a- he declared. Lacking opportunities to hear traditional instrumental music in Limerick, he recalls, he traveled to nearby County Clare to listen to tunes in pubs and record them so he could learn them.

As a youth he played with the Emmet Folk Group and with a trio called the Johnstons, with whom he recorded and toured Europe and America. “Much of their personality comes from Mr. Moloney,” wrote critic John S. Wilson in The Times in 1971, “who has a charming and disarming gift of chatterbox with which he deftly mixes wry humor and witticisms. blinking comments, punctuated by a wonderfully Mephistophelian eyebrow.

Mr Moloney earned a BA in Economics from University College Dublin and lived briefly in London as a social worker helping immigrant communities. He moved to the United States in 1973 and earned a doctorate. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. In addition to NYU, he has taught ethnomusicology, folklore, and Irish studies at the University of Pennsylvania as well as Georgetown and Villanova.

In 1982, Mr. Moloney founded Irish/Celtic Week at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, W.Va., modeled after the Willie Clancy Summer School, an annual event in County Clare that teaches the arts traditional Irish.

For his last two decades, he has lived in both Manhattan and Thailand, where he has volunteered as a music therapist and teacher for HIV-positive abandoned children at the Mercy Center in Bangkok. He performed online from Thailand for the Irish presidential campaign events for Biden in 2020.

His marriages to Philomena Murray and Judy Sherman ended in divorce. His survivors include his partner, Sangjan Chailungka with whom he lived in Bangkok; a son, Fintan, from his marriage to Mrs Murray; and four siblings, Violet Morrissey and Dermot, Kathleen and Nanette Moloney.

Although he spent much of his career in academia, Mr. Moloney never lost his energy to making music, describing himself first and foremost as an artist.

“There are thousands of tracks in the lore, so when we sit down to rehearse our job isn’t really to find material, it’s to exclude material, because we’d play them all if we wanted to. could,” he said in a video. interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2015. “On my tombstone,” he added, “I want the banjo conductor inscription.”