Remembering Lew Murphy’s music

Published on January 20, 2015

A word about Lew Murphy, who died last week. I was a boy when I saw him on TV, sitting on a barrel, singing “Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you...”

In the 1950s, we were surrounded on radio by wall-to-wall Elvis jumping and moaning, by Hanks and Kittys whining about their love lives down in Pennsytucky. I’d never heard real folk songs before, and sung with intelligibility, even lungs and open-throated expressiveness.

I fell in love with folk songs and good singing. I happily discovered that little Newfoundland has folk songs as great as any and Lew Murphy sang them as well as any. He wasn’t a pop or a country singer and probably never sang in bars, (for money). He was classically trained but preferred to give his talents to folk songs.

Once a week for a half hour on Wednesday evening, CJON radio’s “Newfoundland Soiree,” played Omar Blondell, Lew Murphy, Len Meighen, Harry Lauder, John McCormack — anybody but Elvis, Hank and Kitty.

Omar and Lew sang our songs when everyone else was trying to ignore and forget them. Today we are awash with professional Noofy rock groups, rockabilly, Irishy and self-medicating country music. But most don’t dare sing or record “Let Me Fish of Cape St. Mary’s,” “Two Jinkers,” “Pat Murphy’s Meadow,” “The Spirit Song of George’s Bank,” even “The Badger Drive,” because they wouldn’t like to be compared to Lew.

Lew Murphy will be buried today in Mount Carmel Cemetery. Most Newfoundlanders don’t know who he was.

Frank Holden

St. John’s