Nancy Falkow McBride, the singer-songwriter who was a mainstay in the Philadelphia music scene both on stage and behind the scenes in the 1990s and early 2000s, died on Saturday, Jan. 5, in Dublin, Ireland, after a two-year struggle with ovarian cancer. She was 49.
In 2004, she moved to Ireland, where she lived with her husband, Frankie McBride, and their daughter, Hannah, in County Wicklow. There she carried on her music career, while also working as an artist creating jewelry and artworks from sea glass she scavenged at the beach. She was often accompanied on her searches by her beloved Pugalier dogs, Sanjay and Lucy.
McBride had grown up by the sea in Margate. She was a graduate of Atlantic City High School, Temple University, and Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College), where she earned a graduate degree in environmental studies.
It was in the clubs, coffeehouses, and recording studios of Philadelphia, though, that she made her name as Nancy Falkow, a talented songwriter and singer admired as both a featured performer and a spirited supporter of other artists, generous with her talents and encouraging words.
In addition to being a regular at no-longer-extant clubs like the Pontiac Grille and Sam Adams Brewpub, she was a publicist for Tongue and Groove Recording, managed Indre Studios in South Philly, and worked the door at the Tin Angel, the Old City venue where she also frequently performed.
Margit Detweiler, former music editor of the Philadelphia City Paper, first saw her at a South Street bar in 1997. “She was larger than life, not just her voice, but her presence, everything,” Detweiler recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that voice is just incredible.’"
Well before social media made it easy for like minded-music fans to find one another, McBride “was an expert connector,” said Jesse Lundy, the Point Entertainment concert promoter who booked her dozens of times. “She brought so many people together.”
On Monday, trumpeter Matty Cappy remembered McBride on Facebook as “a force. Both her voice and personality and someone you instantly wanted to be around because she gave so much to fellow creative people and she pulled no punches.”
In 1998, she won a talent contest to be the local Philadelphia artist to perform at Lilith Fair, the Sarah McLachlan-founded concert tour, alongside such acts as Liz Phair and Missy Elliott. In 2000, when the jam band Moe played Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety at the Tower Theater, she appeared as the guest vocalist, singing “Great Gig in The Sky.”
That year, she released her album Smitten, featuring contributions from Cappy and legendary pianist Ian McLagan. Daily News critic Jonathan Takiff wrote: "This grown up pop concoction plays to Falkow’s strengths — her fluid, multi-octave chameleonlike voice and smart intriguing lyrics. ... The whole thing goes down like butter.”
She continued recording and performing after moving to Ireland. With Fran King, she formed the group Sunflow and put out the children’s album Under The Stars in 2008. Her last song, “Accommodation Road,” recorded with a group of Irish musicians, came out in December 2018.
Philadelphia guitarist and bandleader Mike Brenner often performed with McBride in his band Slo-Mo and also brought her in to work on recordings he was producing for other artists.
“Her talents were so impressive,” said Brenner. “Her voice could be the big, soulful mountain moving force, but she could also be sensitive and fragile and heartbreaking. Her ability to harmonize with her own tracks was really special, and we would stack her harmonies into lush walls of melody."
McBride was also “hysterically funny,” he said. “And the way she remained strong and full of humor even while facing these tremendous challenges was beyond belief."
“She had this acerbic dark wit, even up to the very end,” Detweiler said. "But she was also very loving and took care of her friends. It’s a devastating loss.”
In addition to her husband and daughter, McBride is survived by her parents, Marilyn and Bernie Falkow; a sister, Ellen Auer; and a brother, Howard Falkow.
A service in Ireland is set for noon Friday, Jan. 10, at McCrea’s Cremation Chapel, Dublin Road, Wicklow Town. A memorial will be held in Philadelphia at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom St., from 2 to 5 p.m. on Jan. 19.