Mary Black - Biography
By J Poet
Mary Black is one of Ireland’s great singers, an interpreter of folk and popular music without equal. A member of the famous Black Family of Irish musicians, she grew up surrounded by traditional music, and has gone on to become one of Ireland’s top singers. She was named Best Irish Female Artist in the Irish Recorded Music Awards Poll (IRMA) in 1987, 1988, 1992, 1994 and 1996, and while she records infrequently, every disc is a gem and in Ireland they routinely go gold and platinum.
Black was born and raised in Dublin, in a family steeped in traditional music. Her father Kevin was a fiddler and her mother Patty sang folk songs around the house. The Black sons, Shay, guitar, piano, Michael, banjo, guitar, mandolin and Martin, fiddle, guitar mandolin and her sister Frances performed as The Black Family; Mary joined them on occasion to record and perform, appearing on two frequently reissued albums Time for Touching Home (1990 Dara) and The Black Family (1995 Celtic Corner).
In The 70s, Black sang with a traditional folk band called Terrace, later General Humbert. They released two albums and toured Europe at the beginning of the Irish folk renascence. Her first solo album, Mary Black (1983 Gift Horse) was a hit in Ireland going gold; the “Rose of Allendale” single reached the top of the Irish Charts. The folk band De Dannan, impressed by Black’s debut, asked her to replace their departing lead singer, and Black joined the band for several albums including Song for Ireland (1983 Sugar Hill) and Anthem (1985 Dara), which won an Album of the Year Irish Music award, and tours of Europe and the United States, introducing her to international Celtic music fans.
During her years with De Dannan Black had two solo albums. Collected (1988 Gift Horse) included solo tracks, her hits from De Dannan’s Song for Ireland CD and older tracks recorded with General Humbert and Without the Fanfare (1985 Gift Horse) a folk rock album. Both albums went gold. Fanfare was a hit and Black left De Dannan to concentrate on her solo career. By the Time It Gets Dark (1985 Gift Horse) produced by Moving Hearts guitarist Declan Sinnott went multi-platinum with its blend of pop and traditional tunes. Her next three Irish albums No Frontiers (1989 Gift Horse, 1990 Capital), Babes in the Wood (1991 Gift Horse, 1991 Capital), which entered the Irish charts at #1, and The Holy Ground (1993 Gift Horse, 2000 Koch), all went platinum. No Frontiers stayed on the Irish charts for more than a year and made her a hit on public/college/ alternative radio when Capital released it in the US. The albums also had strong sales in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
In 1993, Black was one of the female artists featured on A Woman’s Heart (Celtic Corner) which became the biggest selling album in Irish music history. In 1995 Curb/Atlantic signed Black and released her Irish album Circus (1995 Curb). During a brief US tour, Black sang recorded two songs with Joan Baez for her live Ring Them Bells (1996 Angel/EMI) album. Curb sent black to LA to record Shine (1997 Curb) with top session players. She cut five songs by the ten unknown David Gray and Richard Thompson’s “I Misunderstood.”
Black moved to Atlantic for Speaking with the Angel (2000 Atlantic) which she co-produced with Donal Lunny, but was back on Curb for Full Tide (2006 Curb) which was hailed as one of her best albums, ever. Black’s career, so far, is summed up in two worthwhile anthologies. The Best of Mary Black 1991 -2001 (2001 ) and Twenty Five Years - Twenty Five Songs (2008). In 2011 she released Stories From The Steeples.