Danny Boy

March 15, 2010

It dawned on me that I have been woefully remiss in putting together calendar themed entries. No New Orleans posts for Mardi Gras, no Brazilian music for Carnaval, etc etc. I hope to remedy this with an Irish spree this week, what with St. Patrick’s Day upon us and all. To kick things off, Archivist Kevin has done a little research into the Irish smash hit “Danny Boy”. -C

Here’s a quick hit, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s a holiday celebrated all over the world, but with particular gusto in New York* and Boston.  And what better way to do St. Paddy’s Day than to have a web rundown on the hugely popular Irish ballad Danny Boy.  The history has been thoroughly researched, for those who are interested, so I’ll skip the academic exegesis.

Here are three different versions that testify to the tune’s wide reach:

R&B singer Al Hibbler’s life touched on many parts of the 20th-century – he sang with Jay McShan and Duke Ellington; recorded an early version of Unchained Melody; was arrested in a civil rights protest in Alabama in 1963; and sang at Louis Armstrong’s funeral.  And he cut a nice Danny Boy:

Danny Boy – Al Hibbler

On the Kentucky Play Party radio program, recorded for WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky in 1939, “Irish minstrel” Jim Shea shared his version.


Danny Boy – Jim Shea

Finally, here is Glenn Miller’s swing arrangement :


Danny Boy – Glenn Miller

Duke University has digitized the original sheet music Danny Boy sheet music, and noted Irish-American Malachy McCourt even wrote a book about the tune, called Danny Boy: The Legend of the Beloved Irish Ballad.

Finally, a couple of videos, one light-hearted and the other deadly serious:

The Leprechaun Brothers (aka the Swedish Chef, Animal, and Beeker):

The seminal 1928 recording, being played on a 78 rpm record:

Danny Boy music box image above from junjan via Flickr.

*Notwithstanding Foley’s, the bar in midtown that banned Danny Boy.

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One Response to “Danny Boy”

  1. Malachy Says:

    Lawdy Cory, how many versions did you make Kevin sit through before selecting your top five?!

    There’s a conspicuous absence though, my own favourite, Jacky Wilson’s version:

    The song is unjustly looked down on in Ireland, probably for no reason other than its sheer popularity. Which is lunacy really, when you take just the 5 versions you posted above you can’t help but marvel at how well-travelled it is, and how adaptable to all kinds of people, places and times.


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