Judy Collins: Inspired by her Irish Heritage

Over her long and storied career, Judy Collins has recorded everything from ancient English ballads to the latest Broadway show tunes, but her main musical influence was an Irish tenor: her father, Charles "Chuck" Collins. The son of an Irish immigrant, Chuck was proud of his heritage, and named his first-born son Michael Collins. Though Chuck became blind at an early age, he never let it hold him back in any way up to, and including, driving a car. Judy was born in Seattle, Washington, but the family soon resettled in Denver where Chuck began performing on the radio, becoming a true star of Rocky Mountain radio with a repertoire that included not only popular songs of the day but also the music of his father's native Ireland - everything from traditional folk songs to the sentimental favorites of fellow tenor John McCormack. As Judy points out in her autobiography, "Singing Lessons," while she listened to her father's broadcasts, his main musical influence came from his singing around the house. Known for breaking into song at the least provocation he was often joined by Judy's mother, Marjorie, a woman of Irish and English Quaker extraction who shared her husband's love of music and Irish songs like "Kathleen Mavourneen", "Danny Boy," and "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen." Chuck and Marjorie encouraged Judy's love of music and she began studying classical music and taking piano lessons at an early age. She might well have become a concert pianist, or perhaps a composer, had she not heard the legendary Jo Stafford performing a version of the old English ballad "Barbara Allen" on the radio. She quickly learned that this was called folk music, and she was smitten. As she delved deeper, she was pleased, and a bit amazed, to discover that songs like "The Kerry Dancer" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," which she thought of as her father's, were also folk songs. Her Irish musical heritage has remained an important influence on her career. Her first recording included "The Rising of the Moon" and "The Bold Fenian Men," which she learned from the singing of the Clancy Brothers with whom she shared a stage many times, including an awards dinner for President Kennedy. More recent performances and recordings, have included "She Moves through the Fair" and "The Kerry Dancer." She also followed in her father's footsteps in becoming a radio performer and host, often using her show to feature performers like the McPeake Family of Northern Ireland and to introduce American audiences to songs like their "Wild Mountain Thyme," which Judy continues to include in her concerts today. Judy will be visiting Boston for a single performance with fellow folk music icons Tom Rush and Kenny White, on Wed., Aug. 11. This gala concert and dinner at UMass-Boston is the kickoff for WUMB, 91.9 FM Radio's new capital campaign. For over twenty nine years WUMB has been providing listeners with a musical alternative, including the music of Judy Collins. Growing up listening to her father's pioneering work on the radio, Judy is, as you might guess, a fan of the medium but especially public radio stations like WUMB. Not only has she been a frequent visitor to the WUMB airwaves but she also has been a member of this listener supported station. To ensure an intimate experience for all, tickets for this special evening with Judy Collins and Tom Rush are limited, and are available at wumb.org or by calling 617-287-6900. Dave Palmater is an announcer at WUMB 91.9FM Radio, and can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.