Jack Healy: Irish Tenor and Saxophonist
By Jeff Ksiazek
Published April 21, 2017
It took some time, but after tracking down a relative, we were able to confirm that the saxophonist in this photograph of Paddy Killoran's Irish Orchestra is indeed Jack Healy. Born in 1906, John Joseph Healy (later known as Jack) emigrated from Ballymote, Co. Sligo to New York in 1925. Jack followed a fascinating musical path with one foot in the early jazz world and the other in the New York Irish music scene of the 1930s.
Before he left Ballymote, Jack was already an established musician and performed with Reid’s Novelty Band and the Ballymote Brass and Reed Band. The Corran Herald published a great picture of the Ballymote Brass and Reed Band that includes Jack Healy and future collaborator Paddy Killoran in issue 36 from 2003.
The Jack Healy Orchestra (Jack Healy, far right), courtesy of Michael James Healy.
By 1930, Jack was leading an American dance band called the Blue Ribbon Syncopators in New York City. It’s not clear if this band was the same Blue Ribbon Sycnopators who recorded in Buffalo, NY in the 1920s. Regardless, Healy’s band performed regularly at venues such as the Bronx All-Ireland Ballrooms for split dances with the Irish ensemble known as the Emerald Six, which included musicians Paddy Markey (accordion), Paddy Sweeney (fiddle), John Conlan (banjo), Edmund Tucker (piano), Pat Biggins (fiddle), and Jack McKenna (banjo and fiddle). Eventually Healy’s band became known simply as the Jack Healy Orchestra.
Irish American Advocate, September 13, 1930
Through the 1930s, Healy played saxophone and sang with Paddy Killoran’s ensembles and was part of the Killoran group that traveled to Ireland for the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. Healy recorded several times as a featured vocalist with Killoran, including the about 78 rpm disc from November 26, 1937. “Homeland” is a Tin Pan Alley style Irish American ballad featuring Healy’s sweet tenor voice. “Red River Valley/Put On Your Grey Bonnet” is described as a medley of mountain tunes and features both Jack’s vocals and saxophone. Jack is likely the saxophonist who recorded traditional tunes with Killoran's Pride of Erin Orchestra, such as this example from 1934.
Jack Healy and his Orchestra (Healy in front of drum set), courtesy of Frank Healy.
Members of Killoran's ensemble include: Mickey Murphy (drums), Whitey Andrews (guitar), Jim McGinn (piano), and likely Paul Ryan (saxophone/clarinet).
In the early 1940s, Healy was again leading his own orchestra through New York City and had become known as Jack “Lakes of Sligo” Healy for his beloved rendition of the song by the same name. Members of his group included Paul Ryan (accordion), Sonny Callaghan (drummer), and Eddie Rabb (piano). Jack also collaborated with the McNulty Family on certain performances and featured regularly in Peter McNulty’s column in the Irish American Advocate.
Jack Healy married and joined the navy in the mid-1940s and eventually settled in Florida after the war. He still returned to New York to perform through at least the late 1940s and was a member of the Mary Carton Band during this period.
Many thanks to Jeff Haley for information about his relative, Jack Healy. Musical career information sourced from issues of The Irish American Advocate between 1930 and 1949.
This 78 rpm disc is from the Milwaukee Irish Fest Collection, object IF 78 01-717.