Coleman, Michael (1891–1945), fiddle player, was born 31 January 1891 in Knockgrania, Killavil, Co. Sligo, youngest among five sons and two daughters of James Coleman (d. 1930), farmer, and Beatrice Ellen (Beesie) Coleman (née Gorman) (d. 1912). Educated at Killavil national school (1897–1905, 1906–8), he made poor progress, to some extent due to ill-health. He remained small in stature and weak of constitution throughout his life, leaving him either unable for, or disinclined towards, physical work. Music was his only consistent source of income. His home was an encouraging environment for a young musician: his father was a flute-player while his older brother Jim, who had a reputation as a fine fiddler, was a huge influence. Other early teachers were Philip O'Beirne and James Gannon, while his particular Sligo style was inspired by techniques associated with piping, especially those of the blind piper Johnny Healy.
He began appearing at feiseanna from 1909, but while admired at this stage he does not appear to have been considered outstanding among his contemporaries. In October 1914, after a brief unsuccessful attempt at finding work in England, he emigrated to New York. Soon he was a professional musician. In his performing career he became associated with Keith Theatres, a chain on the vaudeville circuit. His reputation grew and in 1921 he made his first recordings for Vocalion and Shannon records. They were a success, leading to releases on Columbia and smaller Irish-American labels including O'Beirne de Witt, which advertised itself as the Sinn Féin label. An undoubted genius, Coleman was also fortunate in his timing: there was a massive demand for all things Irish, as nationalistic feeling was running high among Irish-Americans, the technology of recording was developing rapidly, and it was boom time in 1920s America. His recordings came to be eagerly awaited not only among Irish-Americans but in the American south and at home in Ireland. Then came the crash of 1929, taking many record companies to the wall. Coleman, due to poor management and a fondness for alcohol, had failed to make the most financially from his talent and popularity. Now the depression forced him to take what work he could, including weddings.
In 1934 he made his first recording in five years, and his last in 1935. In all, he made as many as eighty recordings. They were hugely influential, often regarded as standard versions, and established his dominant position in twentieth-century traditional music – perceived as pernicious by some who see his influence as extremely damaging to the plurality of styles that had existed. He died in Knickerbocker Hospital, Manhattan, New York, 4 January 1945. In New York he married (1917) Marie Fanning (d. 1963) of Drumbear, Co. Monaghan; they had one daughter. A monument in his honour was erected (September 1974) in Gurteen, Co. Sligo.