Maria Muldaur

Maria Muldaur is best known for her sultry ’70s pop song “Midnight at the Oasis.” She has since been a renowned interpreter of American roots music, including blues, gospel, folk and country. These influences were evident on her pop-oriented 70s recordings, as was her Greenwich Village folkie background. However, Muldaur became a true roots music stylist in the ’90s when she discovered a special fascination with Louisiana’s many sounds. Muldaur merged her eclecticism with the romantic sensuality that has been the foundation of much of her greatest work since the beginning.
Muldaur was born Maria D’Amato in New York on September 12, 1943. She loved country and western music as a child and started singing it with her aunt when she was five years old. As she grew up, she became interested in R&B, early rock and roll and girl group pop and formed a group called the Cashmeres in high school. She grew up in Greenwich Village and was immediately drawn to the booming folk revival of the early 1960s. For a time, she also went to North Carolina to learn Appalachian-style fiddle from Doc Watson. She was invited back to New York to join the Even Dozen Jug Band. This revivalist band included John Sebastian, David Grisman and Stefan Grossman. They had a recording contract with Victoria Spivey’s label, and she wanted them adding sex appeal. D’Amato, a young man, was given a crash course on early blues. She particularly liked the Memphis scene, which spawned many of today’s jug bands. Elektra Records purchased the contract of the Even Dozen Jug Band and released their debut album in 1964. However, due to their size, they were a costly booking on the club circuit. D’Amato, who was part of a vibrant folk scene in Massachusetts, moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1964 with many of the band members. She joined the Jim Kweskin JUG Band quickly and began an affair. The couple later married and had Jenni, who would go on to become a successful singer. The couple continued recording as Geoff and Maria Muldaur after the Kweskin group broke up in 1968. To take advantage of Woodstock’s burgeoning music scene, they moved to New York and released two albums, 1970’s Pottery Pie & 1972’s Sweet Potatoes. Geoff left in 1972 to form Better Days With Paul Butterfield. This was a decision that not only ended their musical partnership but also their marriage. Maria was initially uncertain about her musical future. Her friends and Reprise president Mo Ostin encouraged Maria to pursue a solo career. Muldaur recorded her debut album Maria Muldaur, which was released in 1973 in Los Angeles. It had a huge Top Ten hit with “Midnight at the Oasis”. Muldaur’s sultry singing style and Middle Eastern theme song were a hit. Amos Garrett, Muldaur’s session guitarist, was a regular collaborator. Muldaur’s 1974 album Waitress in a Donut Shop featured a popular remake of “I’m a Woman”, an Even Dozen-era classic. Over the next three decades, there were three more Reprise albums, usually with the best of L.A.’s session crop but with decreasing results. Muldaur converted to Christianity in 1980. She recorded a live album with traditional gospel songs called Gospel Nights for Takoma. In 1982, she moved into CCM with 1982’s “There Is a love”, which was recorded for Christian label Myrrh. Muldaur’s new direction was not permanent. She recorded an album of jazz and blues songs for 1983’s Sweet and Slow. Muldaur teamed up with Dr. John, a long-time colleague, to create the exact mood it referred to. The jazzy Transblucency was released in 1986 and won The New York Times’ year-end critics award. Muldaur spent the remainder of the 1980s touring with Dr. John and began acting in musicals. She appeared in productions of Pump Boys and Dinettes and The Pirates of Penzance. Muldaur recorded On the Sunny Side in 1990. It was a collection of classic country songs that was specifically targeted at children. The album was a surprise success both among critics and its intended audience. Muldaur was partly inspired by Dr. John’s New Orleans obsessions. In 1992, Muldaur signed with the rootsy Black Top label and recorded Louisiana Love Call. This album established Muldaur as a versatile stylist capable of showcasing her versatility in blues and gospel, New Orleans R&B and Memphis blues. Muldaur’s debut album, Louisiana Love Call, was praised as one of her best. It featured a more natural, stripped-down approach to music than her ’70s pop albums and went on to become the Black Top’s best-selling record. Meet Me at Midnite was her 1994 follow-up and was nominated to a W.C. Handy Award. Muldaur’s next jazzier recording was for Canadian roots label Stony Plain. It was 1995’s Jazzabelle. After signing with Telarc, she returned to her original direction and made her label debut in 1996 with Fanning the Flames. Southland of the Heart, which was released in 1998, was less bluesy and was recorded in Los Angeles. It arrived the same year that Swingin’ in the Rain, a collection of pop noveltyties and swing tunes from the ’30s to ’40s, and was also released in 1998. The 1999 release of Meet Me Where They play the Blues was originally intended to be a collaboration between Charles Brown and West Coast blues pianist legend Charles Brown. However, Brown’s health issues prevented him from contributing much to the album (only one vocal on “Gee Baby Ain’t It Good to You”), so the project became more of an homage. Muldaur returned to Stony Plain to record Richland Woman Blues 2001, which was a tribute to early Blues artists (especially women) that was inspired by a visit at Memphis Minnie’s grave. Richland Woman Blues featured a number of special guest instrumentalists and was nominated to a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. 2002 saw the release of the children’s album Animal Crackers in My Soup – The Songs of Shirley Temple. On Telarc Records, Woman Alone with the Blues was released in 2002. It featured a selection of songs by Peggy Lee. Love Wants to Dance was also released on Telarc in 2004. In 2005, Stony Plain released the mostly acoustic Sweet Love Ol’ Soul. It was followed in 2006 by Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan. In 2006, Songs for the Young at Heart also came out. In 2006, Naughty, Bawdy, and Blue, which were the three albums that honoured female blues singers from the 1920s to 1940s, was released. The other two were Richland Woman Blues and sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul. In 2008, Muldaur sang with the Women’s Voices for Peace Choir on the antiwar-themed Yes We Can! Muldaur released Barnyard Dance: Jug Band Music For Kids in 2010. This album was followed in 2011 by Steady love on Stony Plain, which is New Orleans-inspired. In 2013, Muldaur released Christmas at the Oasis. In 2018, Omnivore Recordings reissued her two albums, Pottery Pie, and Sweet Potatoes.

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