Women’s History Month Spotlight: 6 Essential Songs from Mary Black

Born in 1955 in Dublin, Ireland, Mary Black came to music naturally. Her father played the fiddle, and her mother was a singer. When she was eight, Mary started singing traditional Irish songs, and she later joined her siblings—her brothers Michael, Shay, and Martin—in performing in small clubs in Dublin. Mary’s sister, Frances, is also a singer, and the two have performed and recorded together.

Although she toured with the band General Humbert in late ‘70s, and released two albums with them, she released her first solo album, Mary Black, produced by Declan Sinnott, in 1982. It became a gold album. In 1984, Black recorded Anthem with the band De Dannan, and the album won the Irish Album of the Year Award. Black moved from traditional Irish music to more modern music with her albums Collected (1984) and Without Fanfare (1985), but she reached new heights of acclaim and popularity with her 1989 album No Frontiers. The album went to #1 on the Irish album charts and stayed in the Top 30 for over a year, and it went triple-platinum. Thanks to her touring, she gained more exposure and became more popular in the US.

In the 1990s, Black continued to receive acclaim for her songs and albums. In 1992 the Irish Recorded Music Association named her once again Best Female Music Artist of the Year, and her album Babes in the Woods (1991) hit #1. In its cover story, Billboard featured Black alongside Irish women artists Enya, Sinead O’Connor, and Máire Brennan as artists making an impact on the global music scene. In 1992, she and five other Irish women artists—Dolores Keane, Eleanor McEvoy, Maura O’Connell, Sharon Shannon, and Mary’s sister, Frances—released A Woman’s Heart, a compilation album. Black became more active on the American music scene, recording two duets with Joan Baez for Baez’s album Ring Them Bells. She released an album of pop songs, Shine, in 1997, but returned to folk on 1999’s Speaking with the Angel.

Although Black has not been as visible over the past few years, she has remained active. In 2005, she released Full Tide, which included her interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” in the UK, and it was released in the US the following year. In 2008 she joined Liam Clancy for a duet on “Talk to Me of Mendocino” on his album The Wheels of Life, and she also released a compilation album Twenty Five Years—Twenty Five Songs, which celebrates her music career. She joined Steve Martin on one of the tracks of his 2009 album The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo. In 2011, Black released a new album Stories from the Steeples. She published her autobiography Down the Crooked Road in 2014, and in 2017 she released a remastered thirtieth anniversary version of her 1987 album By the Time It Gets Dark, which she toured behind in 2018.

While Mary Black’s music remains firmly rooted in Irish music, she displays an astonishing musical range, traversing folk, jazz, pop standards, and blues.


“No Frontiers”

“The Thorn Upon the Rose”

“Trying to Get the Balance Right”

“Song for Ireland”

“Ring Them Bells” (featuring Joan Baez)

“Moon River”

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