Tenor Passes Away
By Sarah Curran, Contributor
August / September 2000
Frank Patterson, known around the world as “Ireland’s Golden Tenor,” died June 10 in New York at the age of 59. The death was caused by a brain tumor which was diagnosed in early May following treatment for a tumor of the ethnoid sinus. Many will miss the “Irish Ambassador of Song,” known not only for his rich voice, but for his good heart and his love of Ireland and America.
Patterson’s love of performing kept him in front of audiences despite his illness. His last performance was at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts just days before his death. He performed in sold-out shows at venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Sydney Opera House. Patterson was the first Irish artist to have his own show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, a show that sold out for six consecutive years. His performances have entertained Irish and American leaders including President Clinton, Irish president Mary McAleese, and the late Cardinal O’Connor. Patterson had been scheduled to sing at the funeral mass for O’Connor, but the tragic news of his brain tumor came the day before the service and he was unable to perform.
President McAleese told the Irish Independent that Patterson was “a wonderful artist who had contributed hugely to the world of music and who proudly promoted Ireland and Irish music around the world.”
Music was Frank Patterson’s life. He recorded more than 30 albums in six languages, which have sold in the millions worldwide. Known for his touching rendition of “Danny Boy,” he enjoyed singing pieces that tell stories, though his repertoire included many challenging classical pieces, including opera and oratorios by Purcell, Handel, Beethoven, and Mozart. A notable recording success was the 1996 hit CD Faith of Our Fathers, a collection of 20 great hymns.
The highlight of Patterson’s career came in 1979 when he performed at a papal mass for Pope John Paul II in Phoenix Park, Dublin, to a live audience of over one million. In 1984, Pope John Paul II also conferred on Patterson the Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great, the highest honor that the Vatican can bestow on a layman. Other accolades include an honorary doctorate of music awarded to Patterson by Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island in 1990, and a doctorate of fine arts from Manhattan College, New York in 1996.
Patterson’s performing abilities carried his career to the big screen. He played the featured role of Irish tenor Bartell D’Arcy in The Dead, director John Huston’s film adaptation of the James Joyce short story. Patterson also appeared in the well-known film Miller’s Crossing (singing “Danny Boy”), and more recently sang the love song “Macushla” in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts. Patterson also ventured into television, with public television specials including Ireland in Song, Ireland’s Golden Tenor, and Frank Patterson: Song of Inspiration. He even had his own Irish TV series, Frank Patterson – For Your Pleasure.
International fame is a long way from the child who began his singing career as boy soprano in his hometown of Clonmel, County Tipperary.
Patterson’s talent was rewarded with scholarships to study music in London and Holland. His study with Janine Micheau, famous soprano of the Paris Opera, proved to be the vital kick-off to his long career. The years of study were followed by years of touring.
In 1967, Patterson wed his beloved wife Eily O’Grady, whose skill as a classical pianist and Irish-harpist matched his vocal talent. Their son, Eanan Patterson, is an accomplished violinist who has accompanied his musical parents on tour. The family moved to Bronxville, New York in 1987, yet maintained a residence in Brittas, County Dublin.
Patterson is also survived by his mother, May; his brothers, Noel and Maurice; and his sister, Imelda Malone, who was present with Patterson’s wife and son when he passed away at Sloan-Kettering Hospital.
Patterson brought the music of Ireland to America and the world. Despite years of musical training and traveling, he never lost his Tipperary accent. Years of fame could not deny that Patterson was still a man from Clonmel, where he now lies in peace, to end his successful journey back where it began. ♦