Tenor Frank Patterson dead of cancer at 61

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By Harry Keaney

World renowned Irish tenor Frank Patterson, who died on Saturday afternoon in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, will begin his final journey to his native Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Wednesday following a 10 a.m. Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

His remains will be flown to Ireland, arriving Thursday morning in Dublin. On Friday at 11 a.m., another funeral Mass will be offered in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin.

Following that Mass, and in accordance with Patterson’s wishes, he will be taken to his final resting place in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in his hometown of Clonmel.

He was 61 and was diagnosed only last month with a brain tumor. Last December, he had been successfully treated for a tumor of the ethnoid sinus and, in February, resumed a full concert schedule.

President Clinton described Patterson as "one of Ireland’s greatest ambassadors of music."

"A world-class tenor, Frank brought the joy of classical and popular music as well as Irish culture into the hearts of millions around the world," the president said.

The president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, led tributes to the singer. She described him as a "wonderful artist" who had contributed hugely to the world of music and proudly promoted Ireland throughout the world.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also joined in offering sympathy to the Patterson family, saying that Patterson was among the greatest artists Ireland had produced.

Patterson’s multitude of fans in the U.S. were also shocked on hearing of his death. "I am so sorry to hear it," said Maureen Kelly of Smithtown, L.I., a member of the American Irish historical Society. "We were followers of him," she said, adding that she had watched Patterson’s son, Eanan, grow up performing with his father and mother, Eily O’Grady, a pianist and Irish harpist. Eanan, a violinist and graduate of pre-college Juilliard in New York, is currently a student in Fordham University.

Among those who knew Patterson since he first started coming to the U.S. in the early 1980s was former St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal and Yonkers Industry Development Agency official Ed Sheeran.

Sheeran was president of Div. 9 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians at the time. "We sponsored his first concert at Carnegie Hall and Mass in St. Patrick’s; it was the anniversary of John McCormack’s death," Sheeran said, referring to another great Irish tenor. "After that, he decided to move to the U.S., living first in Yonkers and then in Bronxville."

Patterson himself once said that Bronxville reminded him of Ireland. "You can’t sing in the streets, but you can walk to the post office and get to know the people," he said.

Sheeran described news of Patterson’s death as "a tremendous shock."

"We knew he wasn’t feeling well, but we didn’t know he was close to death," he said. "Frank, he was the greatest Irish ambassador of all time. He touched many lives, not just Irish but all nationalities."

John Ormonde, of Long Island, first heard Patterson sing in the early 1990s at his brother-in-law’s funeral in Crestwood, N.Y. Ormonde subsequently attended some of Patterson’s concerts and became a fan. He met the star himself when both men were attending an event at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass.

Ormonde described Patterson as "a thoroughly delightful and charming person."

"He was a lovely person with a God-given talent and beautiful voice," said Ellen Fox of Queens.

Missed cardinal’s funeral

The first inkling the public had that something might have been wrong with the Irish tenor came May 8, the day of the funeral of Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of New York. Patterson was scheduled to sing during the funeral; his name was even listed on the Mass program. However, he did not appear, but little did anyone know at the time what Patterson was confronting. The evening before, he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, making him unable to fulfill one of Cardinal O’Connor’s last requests. Coincidentally, it was also a brain tumor that led to O’Connor’s death.

"Frank, however, made remarkable progress in the following weeks and was determined to continue doing what he loved best, singing," a statement issued to the Echo Monday by his production company, Mitchell Productions, said.

Together with his wife and son, he performed his last concert on Sunday, June 4, at Regis College in Weston, Mass.

Bartell D’Arcy in "The Dead"

Many people remember Patterson for his emotional performance as the fictional tenor Bartell D’Arcy in John Huston’s last film, "The Dead," which was based on the classic James Joyce story and which starred Anjelica Huston and the late Donal McCann.

The New Yorker magazine wrote of Patterson’s performance in the 1987 release: "The whole world seems still while he sings, and for a few seconds after."

Cormac O’Herlihy, who played the role of Mr. Kerrigan in "The Dead," told the Echo that he well remembered that John Huston had a strong affection for Patterson and greatly admired the singer’s work.

"Frank was clearly an easy guy for a director to work with and I know [that] Huston, who wasn’t too well himself at the time, appreciated that," O’Herlihy said from his Southern California home.

Since his performance in "The Dead," Patterson sang "Danny Boy" in Joel and Ethan Coen’s "Miller’s Crossing," starring Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts and Aidan Quinn. He was also in the movie "Michael Collins."

On the concert stage, Patterson thrilled audiences around the world with sold-out performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center, Boston Symphony Hall, Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall, among others.

He was the first Irish artist to have his own show in New York’s 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall and enjoyed sold-out performances for six consecutive years.

His greatest outdoor performance in the U.S. was on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., when he performed with the National Symphony before an audience of 60,000.

He and his wife performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Reagan. In 1995, they were joined by Eanan in another White House performance before President and Mrs. Clinton. Patterson also sang at the 1996 Irish American presidential forum in New York attended by Vice President Al Gore.

But despite the array of prestigious venues in which he performed, Patterson himself regarded the highlight of his career as singing at the papal Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park before a congregation of 1.3 million people on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Ireland in 1979.

In 1984, Pope John Paul conferred him with the Knighthood of St. Gregory, the highest honor the Vatican bestows on a layman. He was also a Knight of Malta and a Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

In 1996, during the pope’s visit to New York, Patterson was chosen as a soloist, singing "Ave Maria" in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In 1990, he received an honorary doctorate of music from Salve Regina University, Newport, R.I., and in 1996 was given an honorary doctorate of fine arts by Manhattan College. He was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal of the Eire Society of Boston in 1998.

Known as "Ireland’s Golden Tenor," Patterson presented nationwide on Public Television his latest television special, "God Bless America," recorded last September at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

His television specials "Ireland’s Golden Tenor, Ireland in Song" and "Frank Patterson, Songs of Inspiration" were shown nationwide in 1998 on PBS television. The shows were taken by 300 stations and have been seen by an estimated 6 million viewers.

In the beginning

Frank Patterson left school at 14 to work in the family printing business where he served as an apprentice for five years. He made his first public appearance as a boy soprano in Clonmel and, in 1962, he began vocal studies with Dr. Hans Waldemar Rosen in Dublin, pursuing at the same time a course of acting at the National Academy of Theater and Allied Arts.

Two years later, he won all the major vocal awards at Ireland’s Feis Ceóil, 61 years after a similar victory by another great Irish tenor, Count John McCormack. The adjudicator, Roy Hickman, said at the time of the young Patterson that "it was seldom a voice of such splendid musical integrity was heard. The singer has such poise that his mind and heart were in very close contact with his singing."

Scholarships to London and Holland followed and he finally went to Paris, where he studied for four years with the famous French soprano Janine Micheau.

To help finance his studies in Paris, he gave frequent concerts, radio and television performances.

It was a broadcast on BBC radio that brought him to the attention of the Philips Record Company. Since then, he recorded 36 albums in six languages, including opera and oratorio and songs by Purcell, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Berlioz.

After completing his studies in Paris, Patterson was in much demand for concert recitals, radio and television broadcasts and oratorio performances throughout Europe and later the U.S.

He also performed for many fund-raising charities, including for church, schools and the Ireland Fund which supports peace and culture in Ireland.

Patterson is survived by his wife and son, and by his mother, May Patterson, by two brothers, Maurice and Noel, in County Tipperary, and by a sister, Imelda Malone, of Naples, Fla.

The Patterson family has asked that any donations be sent to Saint Patrick’s Home for the Aged, 66 Van Cortlandt Park South, Bronx, NY 10468. Patterson served on the home’s board of trustees. Sympathy cards may be sent to the Frank Patterson Fan Club, Box. 411, Woodlawn Station, NY 10470.

One thought on “Tenor Frank Patterson dead of cancer at 61

  1. Pam Taylor says:

    I’m just now seeing this bad news, I’m afraid. I will always remember his beautiful tenor in The Dead. I bought the DVD because of his voice. His gift was from above…

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