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History of 1920's - Irish Music in America

FiddleThe 1920's are particularly important to Irish music in America, and some say this was the greatest time for Irish music in America.  Of course this is debatable, but nevertheless, it is important to know why and how the 1920's are viewed the way they are.  The first question to answer is: How did Irish music find its way from its roots in Sligo County to the pubs of New York and other large cities?  As we know, one thing affects another, and the migration of Irish music to America can been seen as a result of the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1800ís.  The famine created a large and steady rush of Irish immigrants into America.  A nice sized portion of these immigrants were musicians.  The musicians did not only stop here in New York, but they also pushed on to Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  This first wave of Irish musicians inserted a strong foothold to a new subculture that exists to this very day.

Music NotesThe favorite type of Irish tune was the reel.  More than likely this was true because of players like Michael Coleman, James Morrison, and Paddy Killoran who were three of the more popular New York players in the 1920's. There are plenty of other memorable names, but as you will see, the focus of this CultureQuestt will be on these three.  This group of musicians was highly influenced by the Sligo style (from County Sligo in Ireland) which was also based in reels.  They usually played their music fast for dancing.  As a result, New York playing has always had a Sligo accent in its playing.  Ask the regulars at your local Irish pub and they will tell you that the Sligo influence continues in New York today.

  Cartoon Fiddle PlayerJust like in Ireland, the music was traditionally played in bars and social gatherings.  A great note about traditional Irish music is that although popular musicians were available for listening, traditional Irish music did not require them.  This nearly always guaranteed you would have great music to listen to no matter which pub you frequented.  What a great attribute for our favorite local bars to adopt today.  In the 1920's it was usually a band of semi regular members that kept the bars alive with sound. In bars such as Roger Feeley's Pub and Killoran's bar under the elevated train at 138th Street, they usually had what was called a "session". This was not a scheduled performance by a local band that we may see advertised at pubs.  It was simply a kind of drop-in jam session played and continued by whomever felt like showing up that day. This tradition continues even today if you are lucky enough to stumble into the right pub.

Leprechanun with fiddle The 1920's were important for Irish music just like the first stone in the construction of a new building is important.  This is when the major foundation was laid.  This was the first time Americans had a chance to listen to, enjoy, and have a great time with this new sound.  Of course the major musicians of this time period were influenced heavily from their past, especially the sounds of county Sligo, but you cannot deny that today's Irish musicians draw their influence from the 1920's. 


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