Frank Patterson (5 October 1938 – 10 June 2000) was an internationally renowned Irish tenor following in the tradition of singers such as Count John McCormack and Josef Locke. He was known as “Ireland’s Golden Tenor”.
Patterson was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary on 5 October 1938. As a boy he performed with his local parish choir and was involved in maintaining the annual tradition of singing with the Wrenboys. Frank received special encouragement from local connoisseur Tommy O’Brien after a Highschool performance as Lazarello in Maritana. He sang in the local St. Mary’s Choral Society and at a production of The Pirates of Penzance performed with both his parents. Frank’s interests extended beyond music and as a boy he represented Marlfield GAA hurling club, played tennis at Hillview and golf at the Mountain Road course. He quit school at an early stage to work at ‘Slater’s’, the printing business of his mother’s family. Patterson moved to Dublin in 1961 to enrol at the National Academy of Theatre and Allied Arts where he studied acting while at the same time receiving vocal training from Dr. Hans Waldemar Rosen. In 1964 he entered the Feis Ceoil, a nationwide music competition in which he won several sections including Oratorio, Lieder and the German Gold Cup.
Patterson gave classical recitals around Ireland and won scholarships to study in London, Paris and in the Netherlands. While in Paris, he appeared in a radio broadcast which caught the attention of the Philips Record Company. This led to a contract and his first record, My Dear Native Land. He worked with conductors such as Sir Colin Davis and some of the most prestigious orchestras in Europe including the London Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris. He also toured with Janine Micheau in Pelléas et Mélisande and won a reputation as a singer of Handel, Mozart, and Bach oratorios and German, Italian and French song. Patterson had a long-running programme on RTÉ, the Irish national broadcaster, titled For Your Pleasure.
In the early 1980s he moved to the United States, making his home in rural Westchester County, New York. A resurgence of interest in Irish culture encouraged him to turn towards a more traditional Irish repertoire. Adding hymns, ballads, and traditional as well as more popular tunes to his catalogue he became a popular singer in a country with a strong Irish connection and in March 1988 was featured host in a St. Patrick’s Day celebration of music and dance at New York’s famous Radio City Music Hall.
He gave an outdoor performance on the steps of the Capitol in Washington with the National Symphony Orchestra before an audience of 60,000. Patterson was equally at home in more intimate settings, such as a concert he gave for Boys’ Town. His singing in the role of the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion was given fine reviews. Further recordings followed, of Beethoven arrangements, Irish songs, Berlioz songs, Purcell songs and others, all on the Philips label.
Frank Patterson performed sell-out concerts from London’s Royal Albert Hall to New York’s Carnegie Hall, and with his family he presented two concerts at the White House, for presidents Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1995. He recorded over thirty albums in six languages, won silver, gold and platinum discs and was the first Irish singer to host his own show in Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Rising to greater prominence with the new popularity of Celtic music in the 1990s, Patterson saw many of his past recordings reissued for American audiences, and in 1998 he starred in the PBS special ‘Ireland in Song’. His last album outsold Pavarotti.
In recognition of his musical achievements he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Salve Regina University, Newport in 1990 an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Manhattan College in 1996 and the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston in 1998.
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The late Frank Patterson, and his wife Eily O’Grady with President Ronald Reagan at a recital in the white house in the 1980s