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John Francis McCormack was born in Athlone, Ireland, on June 14, 1884, the the fourth of eleven children born to Andrew and Hannah (Watson) McCormack. He received his basic education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone, and then attended Summerhill College in Sligo, from which he graduated in 1902.
McCormack's singing talent showed at an early age, and in early 1903 he was offered a position in the Palestrina Choir of the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, under choir master Vincent O'Brien. It was O'Brien who gave McCormack his first formal singing lessons, and who convinced him to enter the 1903 Feis Ceoil (the Irish National Music Festival) in Dublin, from which he emerged with a gold medal. By 1904 McCormack was earning a living as a singer, and he made his first recordings that year. It was also in 1904 that McCormack first came to the attention of U.S. audiences, when he performed at the Irish Village section of the World Exposition in St. Louis. His engagement in St. Louis was short-lived, as he objected to the stage-Irish aspect of the show and quit after about two months, but not before he met Lily Foley.
Prior to his engagement in St. Louis, McCormack had watched Enrico Caruso perform in La Boheme at London's Covent Garden, and that experience convinced him that his best future lay in opera. Knowing that the best training for opera was in Italy, he used the proceeds from his St. Louis engagement, along with money earned doing recitals and concerts in Ireland, to make his way to Milan, where he became a student of Vincenzo Sabatini, in 1905. His operatic debut came on January 13, 1906, when he sang the role of Fritz in Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz at the Teatro Chiaberra in Savona, under the pseudonym Giovanni Foli.
McCormack's studies under Sabatini ended a few months after his opera debut, and he returned to Dublin. He and Lily Foley, whom he had been courting via correspondence since their meeting in St. Louis, were married on July 2, 1906, and the two moved to London soon after. In London, McCormack was able to make a good living singing recitals and concerts and by making recordings, but he had by this time become determined to make a name for himself on the opera stage. He achieved that goal on October 15, 1907, when he became the youngest principal tenor ever to sing at London's Covent Garden, as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana. He went on to sing in every Covent Garden summer season through 1914, appearing in 15 different operatic roles during that period. In addition to being the principal tenor at Covent Garden, McCormack also appeared with major opera companies around the world. He made his American stage debut with the Hammerstein Manhattan Opera in 1909, and sang periodically with the Metroplitan Opera from 1910 to 1918.
When not on an opera or concert stage, McCormack could often be found in the recording studio, and he was for many years one of the most popular artists on the Victor label. He even briefly crossed over into movies, with an appearance in the 1929 stage-Irish film Song O' My Heart. Although he retired from the opera stage in 1923, he continued to perform concerts and make recordings until 1938, when emphysema forced him to retire completely. He died at his home in Dublin on September 16, 1945.
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This page was last updated on 09/15/2017.