By Harry Keaney
Frank Patterson, the Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, native who became a world-renowned tenor, died on Saturday afternoon in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City. He was 62.
The president of Ireland, Mary McAleese led tributes to the singer, who had made New York his home away from home. 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.
The first inkling the public had that something might have been wrong with the Irish tenor came on the day of the funeral of Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of New York. Patterson was scheduled to sing at 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 which 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.
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Together with his wife, Eily, and son, Eanan, he performed his last concert on Sunday, June 4, at Regis College in Weston, Mass.
The devastating news that he had a brain tumor was not Patterson’s first brush with cancer. Last December, he had been successfully treated for a tumor of the ethnoid sinus and, in February, had resumed a full concert schedule.
No wake is planned but this Wednesday at 10 a.m., a funeral Mass will be offered in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where, on many occasions, Patterson enthralled congregations with a voice that won him access to audiences from the Vatican to the White House. Indeed, he was chosen as a soloist, singing "Ave Maria," in the cathedral when the pope visited New York in 1996.
On Wednesday evening, Patterson’s 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 his wishes, he will be taken to his final resting place in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in his hometown town of Clonmel.
Bartell D’Arcy in ³The Dead²
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, Frank 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.
Frank and his wife, the pianist and harpist Eily O’Grady, performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Reagan. In 1995, they were joined by their son, 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.
Despite the array of prestigious venues in which he sang, Patterson 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. He was also a Knight of Malta and a Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
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.
³Ireland’s Golden Tenor²
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.
Patterson made his first public appearance as a boy soprano in Clonmel. 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 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 televison 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 televison broadcasts and oratorio performances throughout Europe. His performances as the Evangelist in the Bach "Passions" won particular praise. He performed at many of the great music festivals, including the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where he sang Beethoven’s "Miss Solemnis" under the baton of Karl Richter.
Patterson appeared as soloist with many of the leading European orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Royal Philharmonic, Halle Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Ochestre de Paris, RAI Symphony, Rome Basler Kammerorchester, and Irish National Symphony.
In the U.S., he performed with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., and with the Colorado, St. Louis, Hartford, Syracuse, Utah and Seattle symphonies. He was guest soloist with conductors such as Sir Colin Davis, Sir Charles Groves, Paul Sacher, Jean Fournet, Michael Laukester, Hugh Woolf, Tibor Paul and Christopher Seaman.
His world popularity has been cited as due to the success of his crossover albums of inspirational songs, modern international standards, and, of course, the rich storehouse of Ireland’s ballads.
His numerous sales won him platinum, gold and silver disks and two of his American releases have been million dollar sellers. A recent Philips classics compilation featured Patterson singing Handel arias and Hugo Wolf songs with Herman Prey, Ely Ameling, Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carerras.
Patterson is survived by his wife, Eily, and son, Eanan, a violinist and graduate of pre-college Juilliard in New York, and currently a student in Fordham University.
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. Sympathy cards may be sent to the Frank Patterson Fan Club, Box. 411, Woodlawn Station, NY 10470.