Robert White is an American tenor who has had a major career in North America and Britain as a concert and operatic tenor, and as an "Irish tenor."
He was born and raised in the Bronx (one of New York City's five boroughs). His father was from Kerry and his mother from Galway. His father, Joseph White, was a professional singer and radio actor, who played NBC's The Silver-Masked Tenor. Joseph White brought his son proper vocal delivery and technique beginning at the age of nine. The boy also learned from the records of the leading Irish tenor, John McCormack.
Robert was a chorister at St. Jerome's Church in the Bronx. He was for several years asked to sing at Cardinal Spellman's annual Christmas Party for the New York Foundling Hospital. At one of them he was seated next to Mrs. John McCormack. Her son, Count Cyril McCormack, gave White a silver cup, roses, and an Irish harp for his contribution to Irish song.
Beginning in 1945, Bobby White began appearing regularly as an actor and singer on radio programs. He was a regular member of Coast to Coast on a Bus, hosted by Milton Cross, and had several soap opera roles. One of radio's best running gags was the supposed feud between Jack Benny and Fred Allen. Since Benny had a resident Irish tenor (Dennis Day) it was natural that Allen hired Bobby White. On the show, he sang with such stars as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and in one skit played a Scoutmaster (Humphrey Bogart was the Boy Scout!)
At the same time, he was a serious high school student, and then continued at Hunter College. After that, he studied voice with Gerard Souzay and pursued further musical studies with Nadia Boulanger. He was interested in a wide range of musical history. In addition to premiering works by Milton Babbitt, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Samuel Barber, he joined the New York Pro Musica under Noah Greenberg, one of the U.S.'s finest pioneer early music ensembles. He obtained his Masters at Juilliard in 1968, started teaching music history at Hunter and the Manhattan School of Music, and continued his professional singing career.
At a dinner after he had sung in a Schubert Mass, music patroness Alice Tully, seated next to him, nostalgically lamented that nobody could sing John McCormack's songs any more. He asked her what song she had in mind. "Mavis," she replied, and White promptly sang it, and she started to cry.
This suggested to White that there must be others who felt the same way about this music. This led to him and accompanist Samuel Sanders making the RCA Red Seal hit album When You and I Were Young, Maggie, re-launching him as an Irish tenor. Eventually, he sang a "Homage to John McCormack" concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York in the 1985-1986 season.
His Irish singing led to a concert tour with flutist James Galway in England, which led to the BBC giving him his own radio show, on which he sings a whole range of classical repertory, show tunes, and Irish favorites. As a result, he is better known in Britain than in his birth country, and is, of course, a favorite in Ireland. He has sung at numerous festivals and many major orchestras and halls, appeared in operas as diverse as Don Giovanni, Carmen, The Long Christmas Dinner (Hindemith) and Labyrinth (Menotti), and recorded over a dozen solo albums. He has recorded for RCA, Virgin Classics, EMI, and Hyperion. He is a member of the Voice Faculty of the Juilliard School.