Mary Black's crystal clear voice is an instrument of uncommon beauty and expressiveness. Her gifts as an interpreter of both folk and contemporary material have made her a major recording artist in her native Ireland. Named "Best Irish Female Artiste" in the Irish Recorded Music Awards Poll (IRMA) two years running, Mary Black is one of those rare talents who crosses musical boundaries effortlessly and makes every song she performs her own.
Black's musical roots run deep. Her father, a fiddle player from a small island off the North coast of Ireland [Rathlein], and mother, who sang in the dance halls of Dublin, gave their five children a real love of music. At age eight, Mary was singing folk songs her brother [Shay] taught her. As she grew older, she began to perform with her siblings in small Dublin clubs for the fun of it. The joy of singing led her into a full-fledged career. Her next step was to join General Humbert, a folk band which toured Europe and released a pair of albums in the late 1970s. (see discography for album details).
In 1982 she joined forces with musician/producer Declan Sinnott to record her first solo album, Mary Black. The LP reached number 4 on the Irish charts and earned her a gold album in Ireland; it was honored in 1983 with the Irish Independent Arts Award for Music, and is ranked among the best Irish albums of the early 1980s. Shortly afterward, Black became a member of the folk group DeDannan (see discography for recording details) and toured extensively in Europe and the U.S. The DeDanann album Anthem, won an Irish Album Of The Year award. Black also continued her solo career, releasing her Collected LP in 1984 and Without the Fanfare in 1985, an album which took her in a more contemporary musical direction. "I started in folk music," she says, "but never felt there should be any boundaries in music. Fortunately, here in Ireland there's an openness about music that allows you to step outside of categories." In 1986, she received the Entertainer of the Year award in Ireland.
Black's expanding solo career and other commitments led to her departure from DeDannan in 1986, which set the stage for By The Time it Gets Dark, her first multi-platinum Irish album after three gold albums. 1987 and 1988 saw Mary Black voted the Best Female Artiste in the Irish Recorded Music Awards Poll.
Mary's No Frontiers album was released in Ireland in August, 1989, went straight to the top of the Irish album charts (where it stayed on the Irish Top 30 for 56 weeks), and achieved triple platinum status. Meanwhile, Mary Black's music had become known to a select but growing audience in America, thanks to several tours and public radio airplay of her imported albums. When No Frontiers was released in the U.S. in June, 1990, enthusiastic reaction from public/college/alternative radio was immediate...audio stores discovered No Frontiers was ideal to demonstrate their audio equipment... America discovered "Columbus" (the lead track from No Frontiers) and Mary Black became a hit NAC recording artist. Critical response to her spring 1991 tour removed any doubt as to Mary Black's destiny in America
"She connected emotionally with her material practically on a molecular level... a staggering talent, a breathtaking vocalist who hardly fits any conventional mold..."
-Joel Selvin, San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 1991
" "It's only time that separates her from international stardom."
-Dan Aquilante, New York Post, April 13, 1991
"Black is set to conquer a new world."
-Eliza Wing, Rolling Stone, Jan. 24, 1991
Mary's 1991 album, Babes In The Wood, entered the Irish charts at No. 1 the week of its release in mid-July, remained there for six weeks, and Mary Black was named "Best Solo Artiste" of 1991 by IRMA...in Japan, The Thorn Upon The Rose reached No. 8 on the Japanese singles chart after it was used in a "national railroad" television commercial ...in America Babes remained on the Adult Alternative charts for six months, peaking at #9 on the Gavin chart in March, 1992...in England, Babes was voted one of the top ten albums of the year in Britain by Today Newspaper, and Mary Black's sold out tours culminated with two sold-out engagements at London's Royal Albert Hall during January 1992 (broadcast in May 1993 on Channel 4), and two additional sell-out shows in December of that year.
1993: In August Mary Black was featured on the cover of Billboard in a story hailing her as "a firm favorite to join the heavy-hitting ranks of such [Irish] artists as Enya, Sinead O'Connor and Clannad's Maire Brennan in the international marketplace." Mary Black's album, The Holy Ground, entered the Irish charts at No. 1 in June, and was released in the U.S. in September. Mary toured the U.S. during October/November, 1993, in support of this album.
1994: Mary Black was one of 6 Irish female artistes featured on the groundbreaking compilation album, A Woman's Heart. Other artistes include: Frances Black, Eleanor McEvoy, Maire Brennan, Dolores Keane, and Sharon Shannon. Sales of this album were so strong that there have been enough copies sold for each household in Ireland to own at least one copy!
1994 also saw Mary receive two more Irish Recorded Music Awards - Best Irish Female Vocalist and Best Irish Album - from the success of The Holy Ground
1995: Mary is again featured with other Irish female artists in a second compilation, A Woman's Heart 2. Other artistes include: Frances Black, Mary Coughlan, Dolores Keane, Sinead Lohan, Maura O'Connell, Sinead O'Connor, Maighread Ni Dhomnaill, and Sharon Shannon.
Spring of 1995, Mary joins Joan Baez at The Bottom Line club in New York City to perform two songs with Joan (Ring Them Bells and Song For Ireland), in a recording session for Joan's new album, Ring Them Bells.
A compilation album of Mary's work, Looking Back, is released, followed by touring primarily in the U.S., Germany and Scandinavia. in early June 1995 she is the recipient of one of four Lord Mayor's Awards, granted by Dublin's Lord Mayor. Also during 1995, she tours with the Woman's Heart 2 tour, and makes her film debut in A sort of Homecoming directed by Dudi Appleton. In August, Mary and band perform for the first time at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. In September, Circus is released on Grapevine and Dara Records (Ireland and England).
Obviously this information is taken from various press releases on Mary Black's career. Delving briefly into the personal side, Mary is married to Joe O'Reilly, of Dara Records. They have three children, two sons and a daughter (Roisin), and live in Dublin. According to the All Music Guide, her birthday is May 22, 1955.
Mary's sister Frances and brother Martin still make their homes in Ireland. Her brothers Shay and Michael are each married and live in the U.S., in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they perform regularly. Their mother, Patty, is still living and in fine fettle, as evidenced by those who may have seen one of her appearances on Gay Byrne's Late, Late Show, or listened to the track that Patty Black contributes to the brothers' 1996 album, What A Time/Shay, Michael and Martin Black.
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Photograph of Mary in Tower Records, Chicago, Illinois, USA on May 3, 1995 by Carolyn Andre. Original photograph and digital scan copyright © 1995 and 1996, Carolyn Andre.
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