Biography:Tom Ennis

Find traditional instrumental music

Tom Ennis

 Given name:     Thomas
 Middle name:     
 Family name:     Ennis
 Place of birth:     Omaha, Nebraska
 Place of death:     Jonesville, Michigan
 Year of birth:     1888
 Year of death:     1931
 Profile:     Musician
 Source of information:     

Biographical notes

TOM ENNIS was born on December 21st, 1888, in Omaha, Nebraska, to John Ennis, an Irishman originally from County Kildare, who had immigrated to the United States where he found work helping to construct the Plains states railroads. John was an uilleann piper and came to the attention of Chicago Police Chief Francis O'Neill, who offered him a job in 1891 as a patrolman on the Chicago police force (as he did other Irish musicians). John joined Chicago's Irish Music Club at the turn of the 20th century, and brought along his son Tom, whom he had tutored on the pipes and who became the youngest member of the group. O'Neill wrote of young Ennis - "Tom displays much musical talent and bids fair to rank high as an Irish piper", but later wrote that he was a "mediocre" piper, compared unfavorably with Sgt. James Early and Patsy Touhey. Tom made his first sound recordings in 1917 at the age of 19.

Tom served in the United States army during World War I and went overseas to the Western Front, where he was gassed and invalided home. One his return found employment as a professional musician and for a time toured the vaudeville circuit for the Kent Theaters before opening a music store at 59th and Columbus Circle in New York City. He recorded commercially with a fair amount of frequency in the early decades of the 20th century, and researcher Nicholas Carolan (1977) credits him with founding one of the first Irish-American recording companies.

Census data from the 1930 census records him living in Queens with his wife (Carol) and his father John, although other accounts say he moved back to Chicago in the late 1920's where he performed regularly on the Irish Hour radio show. Ennis died of a heart attack in Jonesville, Michigan, while on tour.