Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Edward MacHugh of Dundee, gospel singer and radio star (1893-1957)

Edward MacHugh/McHugh was another Scottish gospel singer of the early 20th century who, like William MacEwan (who was the first recorded Gospel singer in the world, cutting six tracks for Columbia in London in 1911) and Duncan McNeill, found fame in the USA. His father, Michael McHugh, is believed to have been from Galway (source here). Here's a brief biography from various online and printed sources:

MacHugh was born in Dundee on 26th May 1893. He emigrated to the USA aged 17 and initially took jobs in railroad yards and department stores. His singing talent was noticed and in 1927 he made his debut appearance on a radio station in Boston called WEEI (founded in 1924 and still going today). He sang "The Old Rugged Cross" and the next day the station received 2300 letters. The radio station sent people signed photographic postcards of MacHugh and his fame grew rapidly, even reaching back across the Atlantic to Scotland. There's a story of how his sister, listening to an American broadcast on a short wave radio in Glasgow, realised who she was listening to: " the rich baritone voice of Edward MacHugh filled the room, she realised that her beloved brother, whom she had not seen for so many years, was singing to her over three thousand miles of ocean."

In 1938 the Rodeheaver Publishing Company issued "Edwards MacHugh's Treasury of Gospel Hymns and Poems", a collection of 100 hymns and 103 short poems, all of which were in standard English apart from "My Ain Countrie", a Scots hymn which had first appeared in Ira D Sankey's world-famous hymnbook "Sacred Songs and Solos" in the late 1800s. It's either number 344 or 982 depending upon which edition you consult.

By the early 1940s MacHugh was a regular on NBC radio, possibly the biggest radio network in America. But despite his fame, he still lived on a smallholding of 8 acres in Connecticut where he raised poultry and pheasants, and referred to himself as "The Farmer" whilst the public of America called him "The Gospel Singer". People would turn up at the radio station in New York just to meet him - "every day those of his listeners who happen to be visiting New York City come into the studios to be present at his broadcast. They shake hands with him, speak to him, and go away feeling that Edward MacHugh is a man who is sincerely trying to bring happiness to people through his gospel songs."

There are a few of his 78s among my grandparents' collection, including a lovely version of Lady Nairn's "Land O' The Leal" (Columbia 37015-F / 108364) with "Lassie Would Ye Loe Me" on the other side. I also have a set of three MacHugh 78s in a folded album/wallet - one of these is his recording of "My Ain Countrie", which I think is better than MacEwan's original. These records were probably bought by my grandfather from a shop like the Anglo-American Gramophone Company in Belfast. I also have two of MacHugh's hymnbooks, one of which has the 1927 promotional signed photo inside it (not the one shown here).

In 1954, nearly 30 years after his first radio appearance, Billboard Magazine carried an article saying that MacHugh's show was named as the "2nd best of all non-network religious series" (see link here). Edward MacHugh died on 3rd February 1957.

If you know anything more about him, or if he has any descendants who are reading this, please get in touch with me.

> Partial Edward MacHugh discography of his 1936 recordings available here

Listen to MacHugh's recordings of "Land O The Leal" and "My Ain Countrie" here:


GingerHutch said...

My mother was a nurse in Boston and Ed MacHugh had to have a leg removed. I'm not sure if it was the whole leg, but I believe it was from the knee down. At any rate, she worked for the surgeon and she had to hold the affected limb. The surgery was before I was born, in 1927. She listened to his program all the time and it always brought that memory back to her.