Armed with his banjo, tinwhistle, poetry, stagecraft and his magnificent baritone voice, Tommy has been mesmerizing audiences for more than four decades. He has expanded and reshaped the boundaries of Irish culture, and infused a pride in that culture in the Irish, and a quest for knowledge of that culture in countless others.
Sundry reviewers have noted his remarkable performances. Ron Adams of the Glasgow Herald in Scotland writes "...this is the practised performer incarnate who knows what his audience wants, and gives them that and a little more besides." The Kingston Whig-Standard from Ontario, Canada says "This was the kind of old fashioned folk music performance you don't see any more and which todays performers could well go to school on." Neil Strauss of The New York Times, in reviewing the 1999 Guiness Fleadh in New York opened his review with " Perhaps the highlight of the Guinness Fleadh on Saturday on Randalls Island came at midday on one of the festival's smaller stages. There, backed only by an acoustic guitar, Tommy Makem bellowed a stentorian "Four Green Fields", the hallowed Irish leave-us-alone-with-our-beauty ballad he wrote in 1967, as the audience members pumped their hands in the air and sang in spellbound unison."
Tommy's ambition to become an actor took him to New York where, after a brief but rewarding career in live television, summer stock and Off Broadway plays, he teamed up with Liam, Tom, and Paddy Clancy. Folk music was the "In" music in 1961 and when Tommy appeared at the Newport Folk Festival, he and Joan Baez were chosen the two most promising newcomers on the American folk scene. Both have fulfilled that promise.
Together with the Clancy Brothers, Tommy appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, the Morning Show, PM East and PM West, and on every major television network show in the United States,and they soon became the four most famous Irishmen in the world. They played to SRO audiences from New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall to every major concert venue in the English-speaking world.
In 1969 Tommy left the Clancy Brothers to pursue a solo career and immediately sold out The Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden in New York. His popularity soared, and he went on to three sold out concert tours of Australia, including Sydney's Opera House, three in the United States and several in Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales and all within a two year period of time. Tommy found time between concert tours to do two TV series for Scottish Television, one series for the BBC and one for Ulster Television. He then went on to do a network series for the CBC in Canada and a four year syndicated series for CHCH-TV out of Hamilton Ontario, which ran for 52 weeks a year.
Tommy continued his concert career on a solo basis until July of 1975 when he was booked for a festival in Cleveland, Ohio. Liam Clancy was booked as a solo act for the same festival. Tommy and Liam were persuaded to do one set together and thus began Makem and Clancy, the magical combination which was to last until March of 1988 and which garnered them an Emmy nomination for a TV series done with New Hampshire Public Television as well as several platinum and gold records.
The influential Eire Society of Boston awarded Tommy their acclaimed GOLD MEDAL for his contributions to Irish culture in April of 1957.
At their last dual appearance in 1988, Stonehill College in Massachussetts honored both Tommy and Liam with their prestigious GENESIS AWARD for their promotion of Irish culture.
In 1997, St. Martin's Press in New York published "TOMMY MAKEM'S SECRET IRELAND" and Publisher's Weekly said of it " This charming book makes a great lighthearted complement to Tom Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization."
The University of New Hampshire honored Tommy with a DOCTOR OF HUMANE LETTERS degree in May of 1998.
On August 4th 1998 the Honorable Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut placed Tommy officially in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD with her wonderful remarks and words of praise for him. She also quoted from one of the songs he had written called Peace and Justice and finished her remarks " Mr. Speaker, I sometimes wonder whether our society appreciates the importance of our artists, poets and songwriters. Tommy Makem's journey to our shore, his work for peace and the music he has made famous --- including the folksongs of North America and the British Isles --- remind us that our nation has been enriched indeed by the men and women who have come here from other lands."
With Tommy's abiding interest in Irish mythology, he wrote and performed a one man show called "INVASIONS AND LEGACIES" at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York in September 1999. The three week run was sold out completely. Wilborn Hampton of The New York Times wrote " Once he is as easy in his delivery of his epic saga as he is with song and banjo, Makem will have a grand theatrical evening."
The World Folk Music Association awarded him its LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD in 1999.
For many years Tommy has been named each year in Irish America Magazine's TOP 100. He has been elected to their permanent HALL OF FAME and received the first AER LINGUS/IRISH AMERICA LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. In December 1999 Tommy, along with his old partners Liam, the late Tom and the late Paddy Clancy, were awarded the great honor of being named by Irish America Magazine in the TOP 100 IRISH AMERICANS OF THE CENTURY.
In 1994 Tommy completed a life long dream when, together with WMHT PUBLIC TELEVISION in Schenectady, N.Y., he taped TOMMY MAKEM'S IRELAND, a two-hour television special which ran four times in the following years. On its last showing it was picked up by 320 stations nationwide.
He has worked with WMHT to produce several other one hour musical specials such as SONGS OF THE SEA with Judy Collins, The Shaw Brothers and The Makem Brothers; TOMMY MAKEM AND FRIENDS with Cherish the Ladies and Barley Bree; TOMMY MAKEM IN CONCERT with Pete Seeger and Ivers, Egan, Denizulu and Doyle; TOMMY MAKEM IN CONCERT with Odetta and the Barra Mac Neills; THE TOMMY MAKEM CHILDREN'S SHOW with Tom Sweeney; A CHRISTMAS TRADITION WITH TOMMY MAKEM, with Special Guests Schooner Fare and Cathie Ryan; TOMMY MAKEM'S ANCIENT PULSING with Seamus Connolly, Aine Minogue and Rory Makem.
In the spring of 2001 PBS viewers will see Tommy's new Irish travel videos, two one hour specials called "The Road Taken" for which he did most of the research and also collected and recorded the background music. He also wrote some of the music for this project.
The first TOMMY MAKEM INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF SONG was held in South Armagh in June 2000. Tommy is especially proud of the brilliant success of this event which drew people from USA, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, England and of course, many from other parts of Ireland to mingle with the locals. This will be an annual event. The people of South Armagh are still glowing from the success of the this initial festival and are looking forward to many more successes in the years to come. This, undoubtedly, is the first cultural benefit of the peace process.
A rare thing is Tommy Makem --- singer, storyteller, actor and bard. All of those attributes can be enjoyed today, but it is as a songwriter that he will live for ever. "The Rambles of Spring", "Farewell to Carlingford", "Gentle Annie", "The Winds Are Singing Freedom" and of course, "Four Green Fields" are all standards in the repertoire of folksingers around the world in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Asked recently if he had any plans to retire, he replied "Yes, of course, I retire every night and in the morning when I awake I realise just how lucky and privileged I am to be able to continue doing the things I love to do."
The Tradition continues.......!