Bright Star of the West traces the life, repertoire, and influence of Joe Heaney, Ireland's greatest sean-nós ("old style") singer. Born in 1919, Joe Heaney grew up in a politically volatile time, as his native Ireland became a democracy. He found work and relative fame as a singer in London before moving to Scotland. Eventually, like many others searching for greater opportunity, he emigrated to the United States, where he worked as a doorman while supplementing his income with appearances at folk festivals, concerts and clubs. As his reputation and following grew, Heaney gained entry to the folk music scene and began leading workshops as a visiting artist at several universities. In 1982 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Heaney America's highest honor in folk and traditional arts, the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship. Although Heaney's works did not become truly popular in his homeland until many years after his death, today he is hailed as a seminal figure of traditional song and is revered by those who follow traditional music.
Authors Sean Williams and Lillis Ó Laoire address larger questions about song, identity, and culture. They explore the deep ambivalence both the Irish and Irish-Americans felt toward the traditional aspects of their culture, examining other critical issues, such as gender and masculinity, authenticity, and contemporary marketing and consumption of sean-nós singing in both Ireland and the United States. Comingling Heaney's own words with the authors' comprehensive research and analysis, Bright Star of the West weaves a poignant critical biography of the man, the music, and his continuing legacy in Ireland and the United States.
About the Author
Sean Williams is a professor of music, Irish Studies, and Asian Studies at The Evergreen State College. She has written and edited several books, including The Sound of the Ancestral Ship: Highland Music of West Java (2001) and Focus: Irish Traditional Music (2010).
Lillis Ó Laoire is an award winning Gaelic singer, scholar, and writer from the Gaelic speaking region of Donegal, Ireland. He teaches courses in Gaelic language, culture and folklore at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and his publications include On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island, Ireland (2005).
Table of Contents
Introduction: Singing the Dark Away
Part One: Sean-nós Singing
1. Sean-nós Singing in Theory and Practice
2. The Performance of Sean-nós in Connemara
Part Two: The Iconic Repertoire
3. Singing the Famine
4. The Religious Laments
5. The Medieval Transformed
Part Three: Masculinity in a Musical Context
6. Irish Masculinities: The Irish Tenor and the Sean-nós Singer
7. Fighting Words, Fighting Music: The Performative Male
Part Four: Joe Heaney in America
8. The Irishman at the Threshold
9. The Folk Revival and the Search for Authenticity
Guide to Pronunciation