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Irish Tenor, Voice of 9/11, Performs Tonight

Ronan Tynan delivers Gotlieb Lecture


Tenor, Paralympic athlete, and physician Ronan Tynan will perform and speak tonight at 7 p.m. at the Tsai Performance Center. Photo by Patrick Ryan

Ronan Tynan’s voice has celebrated America’s favorite pastime and soothed a grieving nation. His booming “God Bless America,” sung countless times at Yankee Stadium and once amid the still-smoldering twin towers of the World Trade Center, came to symbolize a defiant New York City post-9/11.

But the Irish tenor isn’t just a singer. He’s also an athlete with 18 Paralympic gold medals to his name and a physician specializing in orthopedic sports injuries. When he walks to the microphone, Tynan does it on artificial legs: a genetic deformity caused him to wear leg braces as a child, and a car accident at age 20 led to double amputation and prostheses. And for the first time since he emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1998, Tynan is officially a Bostonian, having left Manhattan’s East Side for Boston’s North End earlier this spring.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the international recording star will give the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center’s Gotlieb Lecture, speaking and performing as part of the Friends of the Libraries of BU Speaker Series, at the Tsai Performance Center.

“I asked Dr. Tynan to speak and sing at Boston University because he is a remarkable role model for students,” says Vita Paladino (MET’79, SSW’93), HGARC director. “His story is inspirational and moving. After conquering a birth defect and losing his legs, he has accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime. He is a physician, a world-class opera singer, and an award-winning athlete—he is a true renaissance man. Despite tremendous adversity, he has scaled the mountains of his dreams.”

Tynan has dubbed his lecture Living Life to the Fullest, a title that takes on even more meaning considering doctors in his native Kilkenny, Ireland, didn’t believe he would ever walk.

“It fundamentally emphasizes the importance of having people who believe and encourage you throughout your formative years, and the value of family in your life,” the 50-year-old Tynan says about his talk. “The songs I sing are related to different periods of my own development.”

In some ways, his meteoric rise as a tenor is itself worthy of an opera: growing up in Ireland, he often sang with his father while working on the family farm. “He, I suppose, was the person who encouraged me to pursue my dream of singing,” says Tynan. “My mum on the other hand believed singing to be an avocation. Funnily, I did not adhere to her viewpoint.”

Tynan was already 33 when he began formal voice lessons, but by then, he was no stranger to defying the odds. Less than a year after his double amputation, he had started winning medals at the Paralympic games. He would go on to win 18 golds and set 14 world records in international track and field in a span of just three years. When he set his sights on the study of medicine, he became the first disabled person ever to be admitted to Ireland’s National College of Physical Education. Then came medical school at Trinity College.

He was still a medical student when he shot to stardom in the music world, first winning a BBC talent competition and then the International Operatic Singing Competition in Marmande, France. Sony Music soon came calling with a recording deal, and in 1998, Tynan joined the Irish Tenors. Along with Finbar Wright and Anthony Kearns, the trio was soon performing across the globe and in a series of popular concerts on PBS and had a million-selling album.

Since then, Tynan has sung at venues from the White House to the National Cathedral, for the funeral of Ronald Reagan. When the twin towers fell on September 11, 2001, his tenor quickly emerged as the voice of an entire city, as he performed at a succession of benefits and memorial services for fallen officers of the New York Police and Fire departments.

“I was overwhelmed many years ago when I first came to the United States by the generosity of the American people while competing at the Paralympics in New York, particularly the fire and police departments,” says Tynan. “I decided there and then if ever an opportunity arose to return the kindness that I had been shown at that time, I would do it. Little did I realize that the events of 9/11 would provide that opportunity. It has always been my honor to sing for the people who protect this great country.”

Tynan wouldn’t reveal what songs he will perform tonight, but given his eclectic repertoire—which includes U2, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Sarah McLachlan—it’s likely to be anything but a traditional opera performance. And he hasn’t wasted any time surprising Boston audiences: after becoming a fixture of the seventh-inning stretch for the Yankees, Tynan stepped onto the field of Fenway Park on July 4 this year for his first-ever performance for the Red Sox.

“The Boston audiences have always been very generous to me,” Tynan says, “but if you are honest in your performance all audiences respond fantastically.”

Ronan Tynan will speak and perform tonight, Wednesday, November 17, at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30) at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave. Sponsored by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, the event is free and open to the public, but you must call to reserve a ticket prior to the event. For tickets, call 617-353-8725 or email tsaictr@bu.edu.

Francie Latour can be reached at comiskey@bu.edu.


2 Comments on Irish Tenor, Voice of 9/11, Performs Tonight

  • Anonymous on 11.17.2010 at 10:06 am


    This article completely ignores the fact that Tynan no longer sings at Yankee Stadium because of anti-Semitic remarks he made. Seems like something that would be important for BU’s large Jewish population to know.

  • KAHNA EMERY on 05.31.2015 at 2:18 pm

    He apologized soon after he made the comment; which probably means he wishes he never would have said that. Did you ever say anything that you regret and wish you hadn’t ever even had that thought? I forgive Tynan.

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