Johnny Burke (1851 – 1930) was affectionately known as the "Bard
of Prescott Street." Prescott Street being where he lived and
worked for most of his adult life.
He was a singing poet; he recited poems of his own composition;
and he wrote verse for the purpose of historical commentary.
Newfoundlanders came to see Johnny Burke as the pre-eminent
commentator on the fast-breaking events of the day, an editorialist,
satirist, and busker all rolled into one.
His work as a popular artist was his consuming avocation: the
public ate him up. Burke's practice was to write variously
humorous, satirical, witty, and sentimental ballads on current
events, as the occasion arose and with all the immediacy he could
muster, then print them on broadsheets and hire boys to sell them
in the streets of St. John's at two to five cents per copy.
His kind of commentary on Newfoundland attitudes was immensely
popular. Burke did much to consolidate opinion in his day and the
public came to believe nothing in Newfoundland was really
finished, until Johnny Burke had written a song about it.
Burke's balladry ranges from parodic to satiric in mood. One of his
most popular and enduring songs, and his personal favorite, "Cod
Liver Oil" is a parody of a popular nineteenth century Irish song.
In all his ballads Burke wrote original words but no musical
accompaniment, relying instead on the well-known melodies of
music-hall and stage-Irish songs of the day. Burke's best-written
and most enduring songs gauge the tensions of social gatherings as
captured in songs like "The Kelligrew's Soiree" and "The Trinity
Johnny Burke's songs became very well known, due in part to the
broadsheets and songsters that he printed and sold as well as
through local publications, the Gerald S Doyle Songbooks and the
great oral tradition of folk music. And to this day Burke's songs are
very much a staple for many well known and up and coming
performers in Newfoundland & Labrador.
(also phone in orders, check and purchase orders)
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