Maria Muldaur has managed to retain a core of loyal fans over the years with her distinctive mix of soul, blues, jazz, and roots music. She is best known for “Midnight at the Oasis,” a major hit that made her an overnight star in the early 1970s. “I was the Tracy Chapman of the time,” she told the Washington Post in 1989. “Not that I sound anything like Tracy, but like her I was so different from everything else that was going on at the time and the music so pure that it just rose to the top.” Throughout her career, Muldaur has been cited for her “love affair” with the music she performs, which many feel makes even old standards seem new again. As Mike Joyce remarked in his Washington Post review of a 1994 Muldaur performance at Tornado Alley in Washington, D.C., “As familiar as many of the songs were, Muldaur treated them as if they were still fresh and meaningful to her.”
Although her mother preferred classical music, Muldaur grew up as a fan of blues and big band tunes. She immersed herself in the active music scene of New York City’s Greenwich Village where she spent her childhood years, often joining in on impromptu jam sessions there. After forming an all-female group called The Cashmeres, she declined the opportunity to sign a recording contract at age sixteen because she wanted to stay in school. By then she was becoming more interested in rhythm and blues, especially the music of Fats Domino, Little Richard, Clyde McPhatter, and Ruth Brown.
A key influence on Muldaur’s musical career was her early exposure to roots music. She frequently got involved with weekend jams in Greenwich Village with blues singers such as Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and Victoria Spivey. She also become affiliated with The Friends of Old Timey Music, a group that traveled to the rural South to find such legends of roots music as Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hammond Jr. Muldaur was especially interested in the music of Watson, and at one time went to North Carolina to learn how to play the fiddle. While there she developed a deep appreciation of Appalachian music and culture while attending get-togethers on Watson’s porch. At the same time she was expanding her repertoire of blues songs, especially those of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.
In the early 1960s Muldaur became part of the Even Dozen Jug Band with John Sebastian, Stefan Grossman, Joshua Rifkin, and Steve Katz, which recorded an album for Elektra in 1964. After the group broke up, Muldaur became part of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in
For the Record…
Born Maria Grazia Rosa Domenica d’Amato, September 12, 1943, in New York, NY; married Geoffrey Muldaur (divorced 1972); children: Jennie.
Formed group the Cashmeres in high school; became involved with the Friends of Old Timey Music and met Doc Watson, early 1960s; played with Even Dozen Jug Band and Jim Kweskin Jug Band, mid-1960s; recorded Pottery Pie and Sweet Potatoes albums with husband Geoff Muldaur; contributed to film soundtrack of Steel-yard Blues with Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield, 1972; recorded first solo album, Maria Muldaur, on Reprise label, 1973; had U.S. Top Ten single, “Midnight at the Oasis,” 1973; toured U.S. and Europe, 1975; released albums on Takoma, Spindrift, and Myrhh labels, 1980s; signed contract with Blacktop Records, 1992; created and starred in Developing Your Vocal and Performing Style, an instructional video, 1990s.
Addresses : Management —Steve Hecht, Piedmont Talent, 1222 Kenilworth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28204.
Boston and recorded her first version of I’m a Woman,” which later became her theme song. While with the group Muldaur met and married bandmate Geoff Muldaur. The couple recorded two favorably reviewed albums, Pottery Pie and Sweet Potatoes, with Reprise while living in Woodstock, New York, during the same time that Bob Dylan, The Band, Paul Butterfield, Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, and other noteworthy music makers were living there.
Muldaur’s marriage ended in divorce in 1972 as her husband was forming the group Better Days with Butterfield. After Mo Ostin, president of Reprise Records, gave her the go-ahead for a solo album, Muldaur came out with Maria Muldaur, which soared to number three on the U.S. charts and went platinum. On the album was the soon-to-be legendary “Midnight at the Oasis,” a sultry song with an acclaimed guitar solo by Amos Garrett that made it to number sixontheU.S. charts. Her next album, Waitress in a DonutShop, featured songs by writers such as Kate and Anna McGarrigle and horn arrangements by Benny Carter that gave the album more of a jazz feel. This release made it into the U.S. Top 30, and the album’s “I’m a Woman” single rose into the U.S. Top 20 in 1975. “Maria Muldaur’s first two solo albums still stand up today as sterling examples of American roots music,” wrote Geoffrey Himes in the Washington Post.
Riding the wave of her new fame, Muldaur toured the U.S. in 1975 and then took her act to Europe. Although her next two albums, Sweet Harmony and Southern Winds, made the charts, she lost her recording contract in 1979 because album sales had not lived up to her label’s expectations. During the late 1970s she recorded with smaller labels and kept active as a performer, showing up at concerts with artists ranging from Jerry Garcia to Benny Carter. In the early 1980s she ventured into Christian music. She also recorded two critically acclaimed jazz albums and an album of swing music with frequent collaborator Dr. John.
In 1992 Muldaur signed with Black Top Records and began devoting herself more to roots music, recording Louisiana Love Call in New Orleans. The album included contributions by Dr. John, Charles Neville, accordionist Zachary Richard, and guitarist Garrett, and received major appreciation from magazines such as Rolling Stone and Billboard. The release was also awarded the “Best Adult Alternative Album of the Year” by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors. In the Washington Post, Charles Himes called the album “an attractively sung, user-friendly guide to roots music,” averring that “Muldaur brings her steady summer night languor to [these songs]….” In her Meet Me at Midnight album, released in the mid 1990s, Muldaur continued her exploration of roots music. Himes wrote: “Muldaur has a smokey voice and slippery sense of phrasing that made Meet Me at Midnight a satisfying return to ’70s-style roots-rock.”
In recent years Muldaur also created her own instructional video for aspiring singers called Developing Your Vocal and Performing Style. She remains popular on the club circuit today, and has recently recorded a tribute to Southern blues music on Telarc Blues called Fanning the Flames. “She [Muldaur] has never been able to completely match the success of ‘Midnight at the Oasis,’ but her soulful style of blues tinged with jazz is still in demand,” claimed the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music.
Maria Muldaur, Reprise, 1973.
Waitress in a Donut Shop, Reprise, 1974, reissued, 1993.
Gospel Nights, Takoma, 1980.
There Is a Love, Myrhh, 1982.
Live in London, Making Waves, 1987.
On the Sunny Side, Music for Little People, 1991.
Meet Me at Midnight, Blacktop, 1994.
Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989, p. 836.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 1, Guinness Publishing, 1992, p. 2956.
New York, December 5, 1988, p. 48.
People, October 15, 1990, pp. 15-17.
Variety, November 15, 1989, p. 51.
Washington Post, September 15, 1989, Section WW, p. 27; April 16, 1993, Section WW, p. 10; May 30, 1994, Section C, p. 7; April 21, 1995, Section WW, p. 17.