oe grew up in Johnstown, County Kilkenny, Ireland, the youngest of sixteen.  His  father was a classical flautist and singer.  Joe’s voice developed singing along  with his father and John McCormack recordings.  But the King family and other  traditional musicians from Galmoy would often stop in at the Burkes’ for an  evening’s music and Joe was drawn to the traditional and folk music.  He started  out on the accordion, then the mandolin.  At the age of fourteen, he got his first  banjo.  That quickly became his instrument of choice, and the one he played  most in his professional career. A few of us were lucky enough to hear him play  the fiddle and whistle as well.  He was strongly influenced by the Dubliners and  the Clancy Brothers, but always had the softest place in his heart for the old  traditional songs and the sentimental songs of John McCormack.  Joe hurled  with  the  local  club,  the  Fenians, and developed an uncanny skill as a forward.   After coming to New York, he hurled for years at Gaelic Park for the Offaly and  Tipperary teams.   e was the epitome of the traveling Irish laborer-musician.  He sang songs of hard  men who did hard work and he was one of them.  He started work at the age of  twelve.  Those same hands that could work magic on the banjo in New York also  dug ditches in Birmingham, poured concrete in Chicago, and lugged dynamite  for the pipeline through Thompson Pass, built airbases, removed asbestos, and  cleaned up oil spills in Alaska.  Joe sang with a clarity and intensity that will  never be forgotten by anyone who ever heard him.  He didn’t record much.  For  Joe, the music was a wild thing, an exquisite expression of freedom.  His songs  weren’t  just  notes  and  words.  They  were   experiences   lived   and   shared.   Recording the music was like caging a tiger.  The product was a tame  representation  of  the  real  thing.  oe’s career was cut short by Parkinson’s disease.  The last seven years of his  life were a devastating series of losses of all the abilities that had meant so  much to him.  He passed away at the age of 57.  We have started Banjo Burke  Memorial Fund to honor Joe’s memory by supporting Parkinson’s Research and  Irish traditional arts and sports.  Donors may specify which purpose they wish to  support.
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About Joe 

Recording the music was


like caging a tiger...

Banjo Burke Memorial Fund    P. O. Box 937     Greenwood, NY 14839    (607) 225-9928
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