Honored June 8, 2019
Brooklyn native Keith Sammut excelled playing multiple instruments over a 50-year career. He initially studied piano accordion in the mid-1960’s in the late, Roscommon accordionist John Glynn’s basement along with Tim Sullivan. It was not long before they began playing publicly in Tim’s father’s pub, the Rainbow Tavern, on Sunday afternoons when people would come down from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica after Mass; Keith would later serve as the Basilica’s organist and choir director for 25 years.
Keith attended high school in a Redemptorist seminary in North East, Pennsylvania, where his passion for music grew and he became proficient in piano, church organ, guitar and bass guitar. During summertime, he would return to Brooklyn and the Rainbow Tavern, entertain in the Catskill mountains, play with fellow seminarians Michael Mcloughlin and Sean O’Neill in clubs in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and perform in New Jersey clubs with Bill Turner and Blue Smoke.
After finishing his studies at the seminary, Keith joined the Big Wheel Showband along with Pat Keogh, John Nolan, Colette O’Leary and Tim Sullivan. He later played with the Dublin-born singer Michael Jesse Owens along with John Reynolds and Tim Sullivan. Keith was an original member of the band, Celtic Cross, along with Michael Clarke, Kevin O’Neill, and members of the Vesey family. Other notable musicians that Keith worked with over the ensuing years included Kitty Kelly, Bernadette Fee, Peter McKiernan, Margie Mulvihill, Tommy Dunne, Jimmy Walsh, Marie McVicker, and Sheila Noonan. He was widely recognized as one of the most talented musicians and accompanists in the New York Irish music scene over several decades. In addition to his playing, Keith was a noted music arranger and worked on pieces for orchestra with Eileen Ivers and did numerous music arrangements for Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies.
Keith was also a gifted church organist, choir director, music arranger, and liturgical composer. He was church organist for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Brooklyn and served as the choir director, where he met his beautiful wife, Deborah, and together they raised two wonderful sons, Matthew Heinz and Kevin Sammut. Keith worked closely with Brian Whaley, Director of Music at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Maryland and together they produced the liturgical album Desert Rain. Keith later composed and orchestrated works for the album New Heart, New Spirit and performed two of these works on piano with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1986 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, Maryland.
Keith passed away in September 2017. He will be missed for the sensitivity and warmth that he brought to Irish music, and for his kind, generous spirit and gentle soul for those fortunate enough to have known him.