The death of Jon Vickers this week, described as one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, or “God`s tenor”, compared only to Caruso, prompts me to recall his close friendship with the with the celebrated Belfast tenor James Johnston, the butcher from Sandy Row.
I came to know Vickers during his retirement in Bermuda, when we played golf together as members of the Bermuda Seniors’ Golfing Society. A devout Christian, his voice could be heard on Sunday mornings soaring above the choir and congregation at St Andrews Presbyterian church in Warwick, Bermuda.
When he learned that I was from Northern Ireland, he told me of his enormous admiration for James Johnston. He said Johnston deliberately stood down at the height of his fame, from a key role at Covent Garden, to give Vickers one of the earliest opportunities of his career.
Both men were gifted human beings who had many things in common. Both came from deeply religious and humble beginnings and sang as boys in the church choir.
Both died aged 88.
(Prof) Sidney Lowry, Bangor