Singer/songwriter Essra Mohawk (b. Sandra Elayne Hurvitz, Philadelphia, PA) is a performing songwriter and recording artist whose career encompasses a who's who of popular music. In addition to releasing several critically acclaimed solo albums, she has collaborated with Al Jarreau, Bonnie Bramlett, Al Stewart, Narada Michael Walden, and Keb' Mo'; provided background vocals for John Mellencamp, Jerry Garcia, and Kool & the Gang; and written songs for Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner. She released her first single, "The Boy with the Way" with B-side "Memory of Your Voice," on Liberty Records in 1964, under the name Jamie Carter. She later declined several offers of staff writerships, although the Shangri-Las and Vanilla Fudge began recording her material.
In 1967, Mohawk met Frank Zappa, eventually joining the Mothers of Invention, where she reluctantly assumed the moniker Uncle Meat. Zappa signed her to his Bizarre label (a Verve subsidiary) and her first album, Sandy's Album Is Here at Last!, appeared soon after and remains the only album released under her birth name. It was during this period that a studio receptionist friend began calling her "Essie," a nickname that quickly morphed into "Essra." In 1969 she married Frazier Mohawk, the producer of her second album, who had worked on Nico's The Marble Index. Their working relationship spawned Primordial Lovers, hailed as one of the 25 best albums ever made by Rolling Stone magazine. It missed out on wider publicity and never charted, but gradually developed a strong following over the ensuing decades.
Further interest in Mohawk's music was prompted in the mid-'70s by her appearance on [RoviLink="VW"]Schoolhouse Rock, the popular educational and musical cartoon TV series. Her vocals were featured on "Interjections," "Sufferin' Till Suffrage," and "Mother Necessity." In 1974, Mohawk moved to the Elektra/Asylum label, where she released Essra Mohawk. The album should, by rights, have consolidated her position in the first league of singer/songwriters, but was insufficiently publicized and distributed, despite its positive reviews. Two years later, the same fate greeted her fourth album, Essra, which appeared on Private Stock. Despite such disappointments, Mohawk's reputation in musical circles was such that from 1980 to 1982 she performed as a background vocalist with the Jerry Garcia Band after narrowly missing out on joining Jefferson Starship following Grace Slick's departure in 1978.
Further solo albums Burnin' Shinin' and E-Turn appeared without great fanfare, but in 1986 Mohawk enjoyed a huge hit as the songwriter of Cyndi Lauper's Billboard number three hit "Change of Heart," from Lauper's platinum-selling True Colors album. Later in that decade Tina Turner recorded "Stronger Than the Wind," again penned by Mohawk. After ABC Video released the [RoviLink="VW"]Schoolhouse Rock cartoons on video in the '90s, the troupe, led by music director Bob Dorough, began performing live. In 1998, Rhino released a new album, Schoolhouse Rocks the Vote!, on which Essra sang, wrote, and produced "Do You Wanna Party," about political parties in the U.S.
Having moved to Nashville, Mohawk recorded the albums Raindance and Essie Mae Hawk Meets the Killer Groove Band and then -- starting in 2000 -- her earlier material began appearing on CD. Primordial Lovers was reissued by Rhino Handmade in a luxury package including non-LP singles and the entire follow-up album that had originally appeared on Asylum. Within a few years, additional albums -- including 1976's Essra -- were released as Japanese mini-LP CDs, and E-Turn also appeared on CD. In a phase of prolific creativity, albums including You're Not Alone and Love Is Still the Answer, as well as a career roundup of rarities, Revelations of the Secret Diva, were released. Maintaining her presence in television, Essra also contributed songs to the soundtracks of CBS series [RoviLink="VW"]Joan of Arcadia and [RoviLink="VW"]All My Children. Mohawk remains an active live attraction and recording artist. ~ Charles Donovan
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