Tenor guitar player Michael Whitey Andrews is primarily known for his recording work with Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran in the 1930s.
Michael “Whitey” Andrews was born in 1902 and grew up in Newport, Wales. His family owned a tavern. His father was from York, and may have had ancestry from Scotland. His mother’s family was from County Cork. Mike grew up in an Irish environment and musical family. Singing in the school choir was Andrews' musical outlet while growing up.
Andrews was an albino, which lead to his nickname, "Whitey." He had pink eyes and very poor eyesight. Although he could not read music, he had perfect pitch, learned music aurally, and had a great recall ability to retain music that he heard. Andrews also possessed a beautiful baritione singing voice.
After school, he joined a merchant sea group and jumped ship while in Phliadelphia sometime between 1922 and 1923. He went to Canada for a time so he could enter the United States legally.
Michael Andrews first played tenor banjo in the Irish music scene, and eventually transitioned to tenor guitar in the 1930s. His son, Mike Jr., remembers that his father took great pride in his rhythmic sense, and said that “his job is to hold the beat steady” in the band. He had a keen sense of rhythm. By 1945 or 1946, Mike Sr. had transitioned fully to regular six-string guitar and played an electric guitar. He took lessons from his favorite guitar player, Tony Mottola. Andrews learned chord formations from Tony, but worked out many chords on his own as well.
In the 1930s Andrews played with Paddy Killoran. Mike Jr. remembers Jim McGinn (piano), Paul Ryan (clarinet, fiddle), and Jack Healy being regular collaborators. The band played in the dance halls in the 1930s. Michael met his wife, Kathleen, at the Bamburg Ball Room in the Upper West Side. They married in November of 1934. Kathleen lived to be 93. She would dance at the drop of a hat.
Michael was also musical friends with Dennis Day. Day would visit him at home and go over Irish songs. Andrwes knew all the favorite Irish ballads of the time; his favorite song was “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen” for his wife. Other favorites were "Danny Boy" and "Kathleen Mavourneen."
In the 1940s, Michael worked as an elevator operator at 292 Madison Ave (Research Institute). He worked there from 1940 to 1961. Andrews. had physical limitations due to his albinism. He also played music on the weekends, and Friday to Sunday were club dates. Andrews had his own band during this time, the Whitey Andrews Band. Theylayed for the Irish American Association events in New York, playing two to three American sets of music and one Irish set for the dancing. Through the late 1930s Andrews was playing strictly Irish music, but by the 1950s Whitey and the other musicians had transitioned to also play swing.
Mike Jr. played piano accordion with his father and Fred Bruce (was originally a member of an English dance band) in a trio. They played mostly swing music. They played McGovern’s Tavern in Newark, NJ – “as Irish a place you could find” according to Mike Jr. Mike Jr. played in the trio from 1954-1959 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings to help pay his way through college.
Michael Andrews died on Thanksgiving Day, 1961 from a stroke, likely as a result of his albinism. His sister was also an albino, she lived to 98 or 99.