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Michael Cooney


PO Box 278

Friendship, ME 04547 USA

Michael Cooney - Biographical Notes

Michael Cooney's father, Bernard ("Barney the Hat") Cooney, was born and raised in Cicero, Illinois -- headquarters of famous prohibition mobster, Al Capone. When he was 14 he would sometimes tell his mother he was going to church, then get his guitar from the woodshed and sing in "speakeasies". Gangsters would cry and shove money into his guitar. Later he sang table-to-table at restaurants with his brother on violin. By then he knew hundreds of songs and had a reputation for being able to sing any song requested. (His brother later played violin for two years in the Detroit Symphony before they figured out he couldn't read music.) Maybe that's where Michael got his ability to sing hundreds of songs of all kinds and play a whole carload of instruments.

Michael was born in 1943 in Carmel, California and grew up (mostly) in Tucson, Arizona (where his dad moved to manage the NBC radio station). His parents divorced early and Michael spent much time in foster homes and the orphanage there and in California during his early years. Hardly was he out of high school when he took to the road, hitch-hiking and riding freight trains for two years -- to Boston and back, up the west coast, to Colorado (where he spent a few months in Denver and Boulder, recovering from the broken leg he got his first time skiing), ending up in California.

In 1963 Michael was quite popular in one club, "The Top of The Tangent" in Palo Alto, where a local high school band that came regularly on amateur nights learned several songs from him. That band went on to perform some of those songs as The Grateful Dead.

But the lure of the "Mystic East" was irresistible, and in 1964 Michael went to New York, then Boston. Since then he has lived in various parts of the northeast, plus seven years in Toronto. In 1987, realizing a life-long dream, he moved to Maine where he now lives in the small lobster-fishing village of Friendship, on the rocky coast.

Michael learned his music from hundreds of people, well-known and unknown. He credits Pete Seeger and Sam Hinton for his interest in traditional folk music and the history behind the songs. Also for his wanting to "help others to feel what I feel when I hear this great old stuff". He credits Sam, and his old travelling partner, Grady Tuck (now deceased) for his relaxed ("Perry Como school of folk music") performing style.

Michael has been helping others to experience the beauty, power and humor of old and new songs for over 50 years, in countless halls, clubs, coffeehouses, etc., in the US, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain and Europe. He has performed, lectured or done residencies at hundreds of US and Canadian colleges and schools of all levels. He has performed at most of the major North American folk festivals (some many times), including The National Folk Festival, Smithsonian, Newport, Philadelphia, Mariposa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Monterey, Berkeley, San Diego, Hudson River Revival, Old Songs Festival, etc.

Michael was six years on the board of the National Folk Festival in Washington, DC., in 1984, artistic director of Canada's Mariposa Folk Festival, in 1986, Artistic Director of Philadelphia's "Maritime America Festival" (part of "We The People 200 - the National Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the United States Constitution"), and a consultant to many other festivals. He was a member of the Music Panel of the Maine Arts Commission for four years and head of the panel in 1992-93. For twenty years Michael was a director of, contributor to, and columnist for the US's oldest national folk music magazine, Sing Out!

Though he claims to be slowing down, Michael's tours in the 1990s took him from Maine to Hawaii and back with many stops in between, and 1996-97 saw him in Antarctica, on the first passenger ship (a Russian icebreaker) ever to sail completely around the continent. Michael as the ship's entertainer, visited a dozen research bases and many other sites of historical, zoological and geological interest during the two-month circumnavigation.

In 1993 Michael founded The Friendship Letter, "a neighborhood newsletter for people who don't live near each other". After fifteen years of publication, with subscribers in 48 states, 3 Canadian provinces and the Canary Islands, he ceased publication in favor of a bit more free time.

At home Michael likes to putter in his workshop, mess around with computers, musical instruments, books and boats. He says he ever seeks "neat songs" plus good and fun stuff to share with thousands of friends.

-- Walter Eagle 1998