McCormack, John , famous Irishborn American tenor; b. Athlone, June 14, 1884; d. Booterstown County, Dublin, Sept. 16, 1945. Straddling the classical and popular music fields, McCormack helped establish the recording medium. He reached his popular peak as a recording artist in the 1910s, when he was among the most successful singers in the world. He is reported to have sold 200 million records worldwide during his lifetime, and unlike many of the top recording stars who began in the acoustic era of recording, his work has maintained its popularity and is reissued continually.
McCormack’s parents were both Scottish. He graduated from Sligo Coll. with academic honors at age 18 and went to Dublin to take the civil service examination. His budding career as a government official was sidetracked when Dr. Vincent O’Brien, choirmaster of the Palestrina Choir of Dublin’s Cathedral, heard him sing and had him join the choir while giving him private lessons. He won a gold medal in Dublin at the National Irish Festival in 1903. Another gold medal winner at the festival was soprano Lily Foley. In 1904 both singers were part of the Dublin Catholic Choir that went to the U.S. to appear at the St. Louis Exposition. While there, they became engaged; married on July 2, 1906, and had two children, Cyril and Gwendolyn.
McCormack made his first recordings in London in 1904, then moved to Italy, where he studied with Vincenzo Sabbatini in Milan; he made his opera debut Jan. 13, 1906 in Savona, singing Fritz in L’Amico Fritz. He moved to London, and on Feb. 17, 1907, publisher Arthur Boosey heard him at a Sunday League concert and hired him to sing at his Boosey London Ballad Concerts. This led to McCormack’s British opera debut at Covent Garden in Cavalleria Rusticana on Oct. 15, 1907. Brought back to America by impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, he made his U.S. opera debut at the Manhattan Opera House in La Traviata on Nov. 10, 1909. He was a member of the Boston Opera (1910–11) and the Chicago Opera (1912–14). Meanwhile, Victor Records had purchased his contract from the British Odeon label and set him to work recording a combination of opera arias, sacred music, sentimental ballads, and traditional Irish material.
He scored his first major U.S. hit with “I’m Falling in Love with Someone” from Victor Herbert’s operetta Naughty Marietta in 1911. Such subsequent hits as “I Hear You Calling Me” (his signature song, thought to have sold nearly two million copies) (1911), “Mother Machree” (1911), and “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary” (1915) helped make him overwhelmingly popular, and he abandoned opera to become a full-time concert and recording artist. He also became an American citizen. He had hits with “Somewhere a Voice Is Calling” (1916), “The Sunshine of Your Love” (1916), “The Star-Spangled Banner” (released shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917), “Send Me Away with a Smile” (1917), and Irving Berlin’s “All Alone” (1925), which he introduced on a radio tribute to Berlin in 1924.
McCormack appeared in one of the earliest talking motion pictures, Song o’ My Heart (1930); his only other film was the British feature Wings of the Morning (1937). After a farewell tour in 1938, he retired to Ireland, where he performed for the Red Cross and on the BBC during World War II. He made his last recordings in 1942.
P. Key, J. M.:His Own Life Story (Boston, 1918); L. Strong, J. M. (London, 1941); L. McCormack (his widow), I Hear You Calling Me (Milwaukee, 1949); L. MacDermott Roe, J. M.:The Complete Discography (London, 1956; 2nd ed., 1972); R. Foxall, J. M. (London, 1963); G. Ledbetter, The Great Irish Tenor (London, 1977).