Biography

(Note: For short bios, please see: Press Kit – EPK page)

A true preserver of the spirit of folk music, Maria Dunn is often compared to Woody Guthrie for her keen social awareness and her unvarnished songs about the lives of working men and women.

Thirteen years as a volunteer DJ in campus/community radio (CJSR FM88) from 1987 – 2000 encouraged Maria to listen widely to the master songwriters, singers and instrumentalists of folk and roots music. Through discovering their recordings and becoming an avid fan and supporter of live music in her community, she absorbed the important messages of compassion and human struggle that have always been central to the writings of folk artists from Buffy Ste. Marie to Hazel Dickens, from Sweet Honey in the Rock to Nanci Griffith, and from Bill Broonzy to Dick Gaughan, from Eric Bogle to Spirit of the West.

By the time she began writing her own music in the mid-90s, Maria was learning to draw deeply on the folk tradition of storytelling through song to honour the resilience and grace of “ordinary” people, both past and present.

In keeping with Pete Seeger’s words (1994), “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”, her new recording Gathering (for release April 2016) highlights stories of love—not songs of romantic love, but songs of family, community, humanity and the love that fires our actions to make the world a better place. The songs range from historical and narrative to personal and immediate, inspired by social justice stories both global and local.

Maria’s earlier albums anchor her lyrics in music that melds North American roots with her Scottish-Irish heritage. For 2012’s Piece By Piece, a tribute to immigrant women working at a Canadian clothing factory, she added musical inflections and instrumentation (from Sharmila Mathur, sitar and Ojas Joshi, tabla, for example) to evoke the countries of origin (Italy, India, Vietnam, Ukraine) of the women who inspired the songs. With Gathering, Maria continues to expand her musical palate with contributions from Sufi singer Karim Gillani and jazz saxophonist Jeremiah McDade.

The 11 songs on Gathering range from Malala, a buoyant call to action inspired by Malala Yousafzai, to When I Was Young, a flowing old-time ballad inspired by Alberta indigenous leader Dorothy McDonald-Hyde. How I Live shares the quiet courage of families supporting their children with disabilities, while When The Grandmothers Meet celebrates women across the globe, with its exuberant vocals and joyful horn lines. The recording finishes with Music In The Meadow, a bluesy bow-driven wordplay on the wonder of the Rocky Mountains.

Maria’s five previous independent CDs include: Piece By Piece (Nominee – 2013 Canadian Folk Music Award), The Peddler (Nominee – 2009 CFMA), 2004’s We Were Good People (a concept album exploring the vibrant people’s history of Western Canada), For A Song (Nominee – 2002 Juno Award), and From Where I Stand (Nominee – 1999 Prairie Music Award), all produced by Shannon Johnson of Juno Award-winning band The McDades.

  • A wonderful collection of new songs from one of our most important and vital songwriters…If it doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, you’re already beyond help. Essential listening, then, this Gathering. – Penguin Eggs Magazine
  • An arrestingly powerful singer-songwriter who writes great historical and social commentary. –  WFMT Chicago
  • …remarkable singer-songwriter, think of her as a distaff Woody Guthrie.  –  Edmonton Sun
  • She’s assured, strong, and her versatile voice carries her songs straight to the head and heart. – Sing Out!
  • …this is history come alive. Her lyrics are sharp and poignant… – Sunday Edition, CBC Radio

Highlights

Awards:

  • 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards nominee – Solo Artist of the Year (Piece By Piece)
  • 2009 Canadian Folk Music Awards nominee – Solo Artist of the Year (The Peddler)
  • 2009 USA Songwriting Competition Honourable Mention (The Peddler)
  • 2002 JUNO nominee – Roots/Traditional Solo (For A Song)
  • 1999 Prairie Music nominee – Outstanding Songwriter (From Where I Stand)

Canadian Folk Festivals

  • Main Stage: Edmonton (AB); Summerfolk (ON); Lunenberg (NS); Mission (BC); Stanfest (NS); Frostbite (YK); Canmore (AB)
  • Side Stages: Vancouver, Comox, Powell River (BC); Calgary, Edmonton (AB); Winnipeg (MB); Mariposa, Ottawa (ON)

Recent Touring Highlights:

  • UK Tour (Nov 2015)
  • Ireland (Oct 2015), opening for the legendary Andy Irvine (Planxty, Sweeney’s Men, Patrick Street)
  • Summer 2014 Festivals: PEI 150, Charlottetown (Mainstage); Edmonton, AB; Mariposa, ON; Hillcrest 100, Crowsnest Pass, AB; South Country Fair, AB
  • Summer 2013 Festivals: Summerfolk, ON (Mainstage); Vancouver, BC
  • September 2012, CD Release: Piece By Piece
  • Project 2012 Alberta Tour: Troublemakers and GWG: Piece By Piece multimedia shows (May-Jun 2012)
  • Netherlands Tour – Double Bill with The McDades (Nov 2011)
  • Double Bill Tour with John Wort Hannam , Ontario, Illinois (Apr-May 2011)

International Festivals:

  • 2008 Celtic Connections, Glasgow, Scotland
  • 2006 Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, Washington, DC

TV Features & Performances:

The Carol Project (Bravo TV, Canada); Huron Carole 2002, Jubilee Auditorium, Calgary (CMT); Voice of America (Washington, DC); Mac-TV (Scotland); Alberta Primetime (CTVtwo, Alberta)

Radio Features & Performances:

CBC Sunday Edition w/ Michael Enright (Canada); BBC Scotland Travelling Folk w/Archie Fisher (Scotland); CBC This Morning w/Shelagh Rogers (Canada); Folkscene w/ Roz Larman (Los Angeles, CA); Bound For Glory w/ Phil Shapiro (Ithaca, NY); KVMR w/ Larry Hillberg (Nevada City, CA); CBC RadioActive w/ Peter Brown (Edmonton); CBC Key of A (AB); CBC Daybreak Alberta w/ Russell Bowers (AB); CKUA The Celtic Show w/ Andy Donnelly (AB); CiTR The Saturday Edge w/ Steve Edge (Vancouver); CKCU Canadian Spaces w/ Chopper MacKinnon (Ottawa); CKUT Folk Roots and Branches w/ Mike Regenstreif (Montreal); CBC Basic Black (Canada); CBC Definitely Not the Opera (Canada)


Other Information

  • Maria performs solo (vocal, guitar, accordion), duo or trio, most often with Shannon Johnson (violin, harmony vocals), Jeremiah McDade (whistles, saxophone, guitar)
  • Maria has performed on stage with the legendary Andy Irvine (of Sweeney’s Men, Planxty, Patrick Street), Si Kahn, The McDades, Bill Bourne, John Wort Hannam, Craig Korth (Jerusalem Ridge), Laura Vinson and Free Spirit, Joan Besen (Prairie Oyster), Cindy Church, Ron Hynes and others.
  • Maria’s songs have been recorded by: Niamh Parsons (The Peddler), Bob Bossin (We Were Good People), The Outside Track (Poor Lonesome Hen) and others.
  • Maria’s song God Bless Us Everyone is published in the Rise Again songbook (2015); Sing Out! and Penguin Eggs magazines have published Maggie Thompson, Troublemaker, Can You Blame the Poor Miner?
  • Multimedia shows (video ballads) developed in collaboration with videographer Don Bouzek: On The River (with Aboriginal women’s trio Asani), GWG: Piece by Piece (with historian Catherine C. Cole), Troublemakers, Packingtown (in progress)
  • Song Commissions: CBC Radio “Canada Reads” (2007); Public Interest Alberta (2009/2014); Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (2006); Edmonton Trades & Labour Council 100th Anniversary (2006); Alberta Federation of Labour 100th Anniversary (2012)