Citizens Report American Irish Culture

A ‘Keane’ show Saturday at Irish American Heritage Center

Jimmy Keane at work.
Jimmy Keane at work.

If you’re looking for a little local labor lore with your music, Saturday, Oct. 22, the Irish American Heritage Center has a program for you.
At 6 p.m.  that night, the Center is offering a free presentation of Jimmy Keane: Irish Labor and Irish Music in Chicago.
As you could probably figure out from the title, the performance features noted piano accordion player Jimmy Keane. Joining Keane on stage will be singer-songwriter-scholar Bucky Halter.
“Bucky will be interviewing me, and we’ll probably do a few songs together, too,” Keane said.
The show is part of the Art of Labor Series, which is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Company of Folk. As such, the Illinois Labor History Society and the IAHC have teamed up to present the work.
As the title gives clue, the night should offer some insight into the the ties between Irish music and unions through the eyes of Keane, whose Irish family settled on Chicago’s South Side and whose members had jobs as iron workers.
“My father found work through the Irish community when he moved here in the early 1960s,” Keane said. “Initially we were part of St. Sabina’s parish on 79th Street, then migrated west to St. Nick’s at 63rd & Pulaski.”
In addition to toiling in the mills, Keane’s late father, Jimmy, was a “sean-nos” who encouraged his son to take up traditional Irish music.
“‘Sean-nos’ loosely translates to ‘old-style.’ It is unaccompanied singing in the Irish, my dad’s native language,” Keane said.
Keane noted his family became part of Chicago’s Irish music community from the time they all moved to the city from Ireland.
“I don’t know life without it,” Keane said.
Keane wound up playing piano accordion, he said, because, “I told my parents that’s what I wanted to play — almost all Irish traditional music from the beginning.”
And play he did.
Keane once won five consecutive All-Ireland titles for playing his instrument. He has performed with celebrated Irish music Liz Carroll, Mick Moloney, Robbie O’Connell, Eileen Ivers and Dennis Cahill. In
Along with his solo projects, Keane currently performs with bohola, Dennis Cahill, Liz Carroll, and Moloney, O’Connell & Keane. He’s been awarded Male Musician of the Year from Irish American News. And Keane co-wrote the soundtrack for the PBS documentary Irish Chicago.
As for the Saturday show, Halker serves as Director of Company of Folk, an organization devoted to Midwest folk and ethnic arts. He also is a labor historian and musician.
“Bucky interviewed me for a project on a similar topic for the Library of Congress/Smithsonian Institute, and this will be sort of a live version of that,” Keane said.
The presentation will feature multimedia along with the songs and stories picked for the occasion, Keane said.
The Irish American Heritage Center is located at 4626 N. Knox, Chicago. For more information on Jimmy Keane: Irish Labor and Irish Music in Chicago phone 773-282- 7035, or visit the website,

Jimmy Keane will be talking about growing up on Chicago's South Side between songs Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Irish American Heritage Center.
Jimmy Keane will be talking about growing up on Chicago’s South Side between songs Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Irish American Heritage Center.

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