Before Elvis Presley, before Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, there was John McCormack, an Irish-American world superstar. Born in Athlone in the heart of Ireland, he would go on to capture the hearts of millions worldwide with his performances, and recordings. In 1907 at the age of 23 he became the youngest ever tenor to perform a lead role at Covent Garden. He went on to perform there for eight consecutive years with the great sopranos of the time Melba, Tetrazzini, and Destinn; the run ending with the outbreak of the First World War.
During the war years he raised funds for the war effort, with money going to the Red Cross, and to the support of war widows. He would raise millions more in the U.S. where he became a citizen in 1919. His charity efforts were recognised internationally; amongst them were France awarding him the Legion d’Honneur, and the Vatican making him a Papal Count.
By the 1920’s John McCormack’s popularity was immense. By this stage he had moved away from performing opera in favour of the concert stage. During his career he would perform in Europe, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand but it would be Britain and The U.S. where he became a phenomenon. Such was the demand for his concert recitals that seats had to be placed on stages and in orchestra pits. He would perform over 50 times at Carnegie Hall during his distinguished career. And in 1932 he would perform to a world record crowd of one million people. The occasion was the Eucharistic Congress in The Phoenix Park, Dublin.
McCormack truly was a phenomenon. His success brought great wealth and a lavish lifestyle. He over $1 million per year at his peak, and was paid $500,000 in 1929 by Fox Pictures to make the film “Song O’ My Heart”. He had a lavish lifestyle, owning countless Rolls Royces, art masterpieces and homes. It is estimated that total McCormack record sales have exceeded 200 million.
He was a genuine icon of his age, rivaled only by his great friend and fellow tenor Enrico Caruso. Today he is widely regarded as one of the greatest concert recitalists of the 20th century. And in February 2007 The Library of Congress honoured him by declaring his 1916 recording of Mozart’s ‘il mio tesoro’ from the opera Don Giovanni, one of the greatest recordings of the 20th Century. The recording has been archived for posterity. Over sixty years after his death he still holds a grip on the public consciousness.
John McCormack Tribute Concert, National Concert Hall, Dublin
Short Illustrated Biography – John McCormack’s Life
John McCormack Tribute Concert – McCormack Concert Programme