Although it originated in Ireland, the tune and melody of "Londonderry Air" is known worldwide, its flowing cadence inextricably linked to Irish heritage. When English lawyer and songwriter Frederic Weatherly was introduced to the tune in 1913, he recast lyrics he'd previously penned to match the "Londonderry" melody, giving rise to "Danny Boy,"arguably the most celebrated version of the song.
For more than a century, the stirring folk ballad has been adapted by a diverse cast of performers, including various Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees. Here, we look at versions of "Danny Boy" by Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash, Jackie Wilson, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Eric Clapton.
Cooke cut a beautifully soul-infused version of "Danny Boy" for his 1958 self-titled debut album, adding a charismatic lilt to the arrangement.
Cash recorded a hauntingly solemn version of "Danny Boy" for his 1965 Columbia Records release Orange Blossom Special, an album that included various folk and country standards as interpreted by the incomparable Man in Black.
Wilson, who could effortlessly transition from rock to blues to soul, transformed "Danny Boy" – reportedly one of his mother's favorite songs – in 1965 with a version that showcased his depth and range as a vocalist, while imbuing it with a singular gospel feel.
Appearing on his 1972 album Memphis, Orbison's "Danny Boy" features the singer's tender emoting and the arrangement to match.
"Danny Boy" was among Presley's favorite songs, and he put his stamp on it for 1976's From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, delivering a dramatic version complete with stirring falsetto.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Lewis' output in the 60s included a version of "Danny Boy" that was steeped in traditional country timbre, with a pedal steel accompaniment as steely as Lewis' vocals.
Three-time Hall of Fame Inductee Clapton tackled "Danny Boy" with a sparse classical guitar arrangement that highlighted the melody and showcased how powerfully evocative it was with or without lyrics and vocals.