Maria Dunn

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 (released 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.

The McDades will be backing Maria at MusicFest!