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Don Meade was born in 1954 to Irish-American parents from the Boston area who moved the family to southern California in 1957. He was introduced to Irish music by the recordings of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and, when he got his first harmonica in 1965, started playing melodies from those LP’s. Don also played the trumpet in a marching band and took up the guitar. He moved to New York City in 1976, where he encountered musicians from the older Irish instrumental tradition. In 1982, Don acquired a tenor banjo and started playing at Monday night sessions at the former Eagle Tavern. After his first trip to Ireland in 1986, he also took up the fiddle. In 1987, playing a chromatic harmonica, Don won the All-Ireland mouth organ competition at the fleadh in Listowel. It is perhaps no coincidence that chromatic players were subsequently barred from the competition.

In 1986, Don took charge of the weekly traditional music concert series at the Eagle Tavern and, when the bar closed in 1993, moved the series to the Blarney Star until 2003, when that bar was sold. With support from Mick Moloney, a Global Distinguished Scholar at New York University, Don ran monthly concerts for NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House from 2004 until 2020.

In 1995, Don was the founding Artistic Director of the Catskills Irish Arts Week held in East Durham, New York. He continued in that post for six years and remains involved in the week. He was a traditional music columnist for ten years for the weekly Irish Voice newspaper and has contributed articles to Current Musicology, New York Irish History, The Companion to Irish Traditional Music and New Hibernia Review.

Don Meade, harmonica / Marlow Palleja. New York, 2020s. Image courtesy Don Meade