An event at the NCH will celebrate the life of late great tenor Frank Patterson, writes Cathy Desmond.
In January 2019, The Nationalist, a local newspaper in Clonmel launched a poll to decide on who was the greatest person living or dead from the premier county. The short list of 16 names included revolutionary leaders, popular
entertainers and sportsmen. Leading the poll and voted the No 1 Greatest Tipperary Person of all time was the man nicknamed ‘Ireland’s Golden Tenor’. Standing on a pedestal in Clonmel town centre, a bronze statue of the singer in full concert tails poised as if captured mid-song preserves the memory of Frank Patterson.
Recognised as the rightful successor to Count John McCormack, Patterson was feted across the world in a spectacularly successful career that spanned four decades before his untimely death at the age 61 in 2000. Together with his wife, pianist Eily O’Grady (who passed away in 2015), the duo blazed a trail across America playing for presidents and popes entertaining audiences in the grandest halls but also for the hoi polloi in hundreds of parish halls throughout Ireland and America.
There were rumours that he was courted by the Mob but offers of ‘new management’ were politely but firmly declined. The king of rock and roll was a fan. Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley came to Tipperary to lay flowers on the grave as a mark of her father’s respect.
Almost two decades after his death, the fan base of Pronsias mac Pháidín remains strong. Now preparations are advanced for a special tribute show at the National Concert Hall to celebrate a unique musical legacy.
The guests will include a host of musical cousins and clan members that include Na Casaidigh and the O’Gradys. Des Keogh, Patterson’s brother-in-law will narrate, and Oonagh Keogh will lead a 30-piece orchestra. The tenor chosen to bear the mantle and sing Patterson’s best loved songs is Wexford man, Anthony Kearns.
Kearns is best known as one of the original ‘Irish Tenors’, a singing trio who enjoyed instant success when they first emerged in 1999 post Riverdance. The group still tour twenty years later.
“We were fortunate that we landed on the crest of a wave,” says Kearns. “Frank paved the way. He kept the whole thing going single handed and he did it the hard way.”
The two met on one occasion only just after the Irish Tenors had emerged on the scene.
"There was room for two Irish tenors in Galway back then,” he quips.
Following Patterson’s death, Kearns received a very special bequest.
"Some of the arrangements are hand- written. There is wonderful colour in the orchestrations and the rich arrangements allow the songs to breathe.”
Producing the event is Gerald Peregrine, a cello virtuoso who had a unique back stage pass to Ireland’s cultural ambassador.
“I grew up in a musical family. Eily was my aunt. My cousin Éanán [Patterson’s son] is the same as age as me and we often visited them when they were home in Brittas. When I was 11 years old, I spent six weeks in the States and went to school with Éanán. I learned so much about the business from being around them.
“Frank was sweet and sincere. Even at the height of his success, he was genuinely humbled at the audience reactions. Whether he was playing in a parish hall or Carnegie Hall he would always turn up in full concert regalia. There was never an off day.
“Just before she died, I promised Eily that I would do my best to preserve Frank’s legacy. The time seems right now to look back, hear the stories and re live some of the incredible memories from his glittering career.”
Frank Patterson - Ireland’s Golden Tenor, National Concert Hall, Dublin, June 15