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Presentations on Sligo fiddle player James Morrison from Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2015

Presentations on Sligo fiddle player James Morrison from Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2015

ITMA's October 2015 video playlist begins with a presentation by Harry Bradshaw: In addition to co-founding the Irish Traditional Music Archive with Nicholas Carolan in 1987, Harry has worked in the field of Irish music for over 40 years, as a broadcaster, audio engineer, music researcher, field collector, and music publisher. His presentation, which was recorded at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2015 in Sligo, covers the legendary Sligo fiddle player James Morrison's early life before emigrating to the USA in 1915 [this video has been removed from the playlist, 8 October 2018].

The story is taken up in a second presentation, also from Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2015, in which 2015 All-Ireland Champion accordion player and music researcher Daithí Gormley details Morrison's later life after his emigration to the USA.

James Morrison (1893-1947) was one of the most influential Irish fiddle players of the early-mid 20th century. Born near Riverstown, Co. Sligo, he learned music initially from his maternal family, from his older brothers, and from local musicians in the culturally-rich south Sligo area such as fiddler Tom Johnston and the legendary travelling uilleann piper Johnny Gorman. Morrison learned to read and write music from a local priest, Fr Bernard Creehan, and as a young man he worked for the Gaelic League teaching dance and the Irish language (in which he was fluent).

Morrison won the Sligo Feis Ceoil senior fiddle competition in April 1915 and later the same year he emigrated to the USA. Initially he settled in Boston, where five of his siblings were already established, before moving to New York City in 1918. Morrison quickly became a prominent performer and teacher of music and dance in the vibrant New York Irish-American cultural scene. He married Teresa Flynn (from Knocknadalteen, Co. Sligo) in 1919, and made his first commercial recording for the New Republic label in 1921. Over the following fifteen years Morrison's recording career ranged from traditional solo and duet performances to pioneering large ensemble dance band arrangements. In parallel to recording and performing as a fiddle player, Morrison built up a parallel career as a music teacher, instructing students on fiddle, flute, banjo and accordion. 

By the late 1930s, with the Great Depression having halted his recording career, music teaching became Morrison's primary occupation. Working with Co. Kerry dance master James McKenna they became the most successful teachers of Irish music and dance in New York. Later in his life Morrison—like many of his contemporaries—became a heavy drinker, but he remained a highly-sought-after music teacher until his death in November 1947 at the age of 54.

Examples of Morrison's commercial recordings, along with those of his contemporaries Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran, can be heard in this ITMA online playlist.  Morrison's accordion tutor, How to Play the Globe Accordeon Irish Style (C. Meisel Inc., New York, 1931) gives an insight into his music teaching work, and is available here in ITMA's collection of interactive digital scores.

With thanks to Harry Bradshaw, Daithí Gormley, Brian Doyle, Martin Enright and the organising committee of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2015

Much of the information above is dervied from the notes to James Morrison: The Professor Harry Bradshaw's 1989 Viva Voce cassette release of remastered Morrison 78 rpm recordings.