Biography

ESSRA MOHAWK— Singer/Songwriter Born and raised in Phila., Pa.

Attended Phila. College of Art (major: fine arts) on scholarship.

Essra Mohawk - The Secret DivaEssra's 1st record release was a single “The Boy With the Way” /b-side “Memory of Your Voice” on Liberty records when se was 16. “Newcomer Pick” in Cashbox, it was produced by Hutch Davie (He produced Shirley Ellis “Name Game”). A year later in New York both Koppelman & Rubin and United Artists offered her a position as a staff writer. She took neither offer but Shadow Morton who produced both the Shangri-Las and Vanilla Fudge, discovered her and her music and two years later the Shangri-La’s recorded Essra’s song “I’ll Never Learn” . Soon after that, her song, “The Spell That Comes After” was recorded by Vanilla Fudge on their “Renaissance” album. at age 19, Essra was discovered once again. This time by Frank Zappa who, after hearing her play was so blown away, he immediately invited her to join his band, The Mothers of Invention, thus making her their first female member. Within a year he signed her and released her first solo album on Verve. While performing with the Mothers, Essra also opened for Cream (their first time in New York), Procol Harum(Keith Reid’s lyrics to “Quite Rightly So” are about Essra), Albert King, Electric Flag, Grateful Dead(their first performance in N.Y.),and Jimi Hendrix.

By 1969 Essra was recording her second album in L.A. and S.F. for Reprise after Mo Ostin (then Vice Pres.) discovered her singing at a club in N.Y. and asked her on the spot to come to the label. The result was “Primordial Lovers”, an LP that received a 5 star review in Downbeat, raves in Mix, and was stated as being “one of the best 25 albums ever made” in Rolling Stone magazine. Unfortunately, these reviews came over a year after the release of the album and new fans found it hard to secure the LP due to poor distribution and the sale of the Reprise label following the release. Nevertheless, this critically acclaimed musical work continues to generate a cult following for Essra.Fans and critics rejoiced worldwide when it was reissued on CD in 2000 by by Rhino Handmade. She wrote most of the songs while living in Mendocino, California. While recording the album, Essra married her producer, Frazier Mohawk, and from that time on was known as Essra Mohawk. She also sang in a background vocal trio with Carole King.

Essra’s third album, released in 1974 on Elektra/Asylum, once again hailed worldwide by music critics in spite of a lack of promotion, led England’s music magazine, Melody Maker, to declare it, “the richest and most unheralded event in American music” that year.

After moving back to Philadelphia in the 70’s, Ms. Mohawk continued to sing as a session vocalist. She is especially known for singing on Schoolhouse Rock, the popular educational and musical cartoon series that continues to air on TV. Essra’s vocals are on “Interjections”, “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage”, and “Mother Necessity”. After ABC Video released the cartoons on video* in the 90’s, they received an upsurge of popularity and the troupe, led by music director, Bob Dorough, began performing live in the mid-90’s.

A new album on which Essra sang wrote and produced a track entitled “Do You Wanna Party”Essra Mohawk - The Secret Diva about political parties in the U.S. was released on Rhino in Sept. ‘98 on an album called “Schoolhouse Rocks the Vote”.

Ms. Mohawk’s fourth album was released on Private Stock records in 1976. After the same lack of support that has kept Essra’s remarkable music in the shadows, she left the label and moved back to California in 1977. Paul Kantner wanted her to be the lead singer in Jefferson Starship after Grace Slick dropped out for a while but he couldn’t convince the rest of the band to use another female vocalist so they chose a male, Micky Thomas, instead. In 1980-82 Essra performed as a background vocalist with the Jerry Garcia Band. During the same period she co-wrote “Haze” with Bobby Weir and his band “Bobby and the Midnights” for their Atlantic release. Also, Essra has collaborated with Al Jarreau, Bonnie Bramlett, Mark McEntee of the DiVinyls, Eric Bazilian, Al Stewart and Narada Michael Walden. She sang and recorded with John Mellencamp. (He’d seek her out wherever she lived for her advice and encouragement.)

Essra’s music and ideas inspired Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” (Essra was scheduled to play at the original Woodstock, but her manager missed a turn and they arrived too late. She finally played at the 25th Anniversary at Bethel.) David Crosby’s “Deja Vu” was inspired by Essra’s song “I Have Been Here Before”. David would ask her to play it for him whenever he saw her and then wrote “Deja Vu” as a result.

In 1982, Essra moved back to Philadelphia from L.A. and was brought into the McFadden & Whitehead pre-production sessions. She conjured up “Not With Me” overnight for the duo and they released it on their Capitol album that year.

Essra recorded two more solo albums in the 80’s. Both were released independently and both were produced by her, then, husband Daoud Shaw (Van Morrison’s drummer for many years and original drummer for Saturday Night Live). They first met during those early days on Bleeker St. in New York’s Greenwich Village, where she jammed vocally with jazz greats: Mike Manieri, the Brecker Bros., Eddie Gomez and Jeremy Steig. As a result her vocal style developed more along the lines of a wind instrument than that of a typical pop singer. Being in the Mothers then also helped to propel the youth to such a creative and original stance as a vocalist.

Essra’s eclectic influences begin with her parents, Anne and Henry Hurvitz, who sang and wrote 40’s style standards, and include: Judy Garland, Nina Simone, The Coasters, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Thelonius Monk, Erik Satie, Billy Holiday, Otis Redding, The Beatles, Ravi Shankar, The Rolling Stones and Ravel.

*on Kid Video chart over 75 weeks

Essra Mohawk - The Secret DivaEssra’s career as a songwriter took off when Cyndi Lauper recorded “Change of Heart” in 1986. It went to #3 on Billboard’s top 200 in 1987, winning an award from BMI for airplay. The album it was on (“True Colors”) went platinum. Since then many artists have recorded Essra’s songs and continue to do so. (see list below) The singer-songwriter’s over 600 songs, have recently been archived for future releases. Three of her early LPs were reissued on CDs in Japan in spring 2003, followed by her recent tours to California, the East Coast and Japan . Essra’s first album on CD “Raindance” which was released on Schoolkids Records in ‘95 was reissued on Evidence Feb., 2005. Her 1999 CD, “Essie Mae Hawk Meets the Killer Groove Band”, was remastered and reissued on Essra’s own label, MummyPump, in 2003. Essra’s been living in Nashville, TN since 1993 where she continues to write and record, playing her music on piano, mandolin and guitar. Keb’ Mo’, Steve Cropper and Bonnie Bramlett are among the stellar performers who joined Essra on her 2003 Evidence CD “You’re Not Alone”. Her songs were used on the CBS series Joan of Arcadia in 2004 and 2005. “Hotel California” is one of many books about music that mention Essra. Her CD “Love is Still the Answer” was released in spring of 2006 and in 2007 Revelations of the Secret Diva was released on CD, a collection of previously unreleased tracks including outtakes from her first four albums. Marty Balin recorded Essra's song "Shaping the Night for his 2009 CD, "Nothin' 2 Lose". In 2010, Collectors Choice reissued Essra's first 3 LPs on CD to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Primordial Lovers! Then in summer of 2011: Essra's first European tour!                                     One of the first women to explore progressive rock and pop, Essra is still leading the way.


  • 1964 1st single released under the name of Jamie Carter on Liberty (titles in text above)
  • 1966 “I’LL NEVER LEARN” / Shangri-Las/ b-side of “Sweet Sounds of Summer” now available on CD “The Best of the Shangri-Las”/Mercury(1996)#314 532 371-2
  • 1968 “THE SPELL THAT COMES AFTER”/Vanilla Fudge “Renaissance”LP/ATCO reissued 1998 on CD/Sundazed Records 
  • 1969 1st album released “Sandy’s Album is Here at Last”/ Verve #V6-5064-X
  • 1970 2nd album released(1st as Essra Mohawk) “Primordial Lovers”/WB Reprise #6377
  • 1974 3rd album released “ESSRA MOHAWK” w/Maxfield Parrish-like cover art #7E-1023
  • 1976 4th album released “ESSRA”/Private Stock Records/#PS2024 on Elektra/Asylum
  • 1981 “HAZE”/Bobby & the Midnights/Atlantic Records 1982 “NOT WITH ME”/McFadden & Whitehead, “Movin’ On”/Capitol EMI #ST-12251
  • 1982 5th solo album “BURNIN’ SHININ’ ”(released unbeknownst to artist)/ San Francisco Sound #SFS 11810
  • 1985 6th solo album(last on vinyl) “E-TURN”/Eclipse Records #E0001 [reissued on CD 2005/MummyPump]
  • 1986 “CHANGE OF HEART”/#3 hit single from Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” LP/Epic *platinum released again on CD “Twelve Deadly Cyns” in 1994 on Sony/went to #1 on UK album chart
  • 1988 “INNOCENCE FALLS AWAY”/Eria Fachin/ATCO
  • 1989 “STRONGER THAN THE WIND”/Tina Turner/released on 3 different b-sides off “Foreign Affairs” LP/Capitol EMI
  • 1990 “SO INTENSE”/hit single off Lisa Fischer LP “So Intense”#5 R&B album chart/Elektra
  • 1991 “HAND OVER YOUR HEART”/Lorrie Morgan “Something in Red”LP/BMG *platinum*
  • 1992 “ONE STRIKE”/single by Degrees of Motion (Esquire Records) Top 40 on Dance Charts.
  • 1993 “I’VE HAD IT ALL”/Lowen & Navarro “Broken Moon” CD Parachute/(Mercury) #314 518 309-2
  • 1994 “CAN’T TURN THE NIGHT OFF”/Annie Haslam of Renaissance “Blessing in Disguise” CD (One Way Records #PRO-101)
  • 1995 “BABY’S GOT A HABIT”/Joe Lynn Turner “Nothing’s Changed”/(Mayhem Records) #CDMFN 189
  • 1995 7th solo album (1st on CD) “RAINDANCE”/(Schoolkids Records) #SKR 1528
  • 1996 “SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK”/4 CD Boxed Set(incl. 3 tracks w/Mohawk’s vocals) Kid Rhino
  • 1998 “WHAT’S IT GONNA’ BE”/Rita Coolidge CD “Thinkin’ About You”/Innerworks FOF-2100-2 
  • 1998 “DREAM”/Peabo Bryson “Barney’s Great Adventure-the movie” (soundtrack CD)
  • 1999 8th album “Essie Mae Hawk Meets the KillerGrooveBand” (MummyPump) [remastered in 2003]
  • 2000 “PRIMORDIAL LOVERS MM”/ Essra Mohawk (Rhino Handmade) #RHM2 7720 
  • 2001 “INFINITE EYES”/Keb Mo CD “Big Wide Grin” (Sony Wonder) #LK 63829
  • 2001 9th solo album (1st live) “Essra Live at Genghis Cohen” (MummyPump) 
  • 2001 single, “Whatever It Takes” from “Raindance” reissue (MummyPump)
  • 2002 “RAINDANCE” Album Reissue (MummyPump) /released again in 2005 (Evidence) 
  • 2002 “SHADOW ON THE MOON”/Julian Dawson “Hillbilly Zen” (Blue Rose Records) #BLU CD027
  • 2002 “Riders On The Storm”/LOVE HER MADLY/CD of Doors songs recorded by Women Artists (skipping Discs) 
  • 2003 10th solo album “You’re Not Alone” (Evidence) #ECD 28004-2_
  • 2003 “Golden Years”/SPIDERS from VENUS/CD of David Bowie songs recorded by Women Artists (SkippingDiscs) 
  • 2004 “Steppin’ Out”/DIFFERENT for GIRLS/CD of Joe Jackson songs recorded by women artists (SkippingDiscs)
  • 2004 “Boy With the Way”/GIRLS GO ZONK/CD collection of rare US singers of the 60’s (RPM 274)
  • 2005 “Party of Special Things to Do”/MAMA KANGEROOS/ Philly women sing Captain Beefheart (Genus Records)
  • 2006 11th solo album "LOVE IS STILL THE ANSWER" (MummyPump MPR-1111)
  • 2006 "To Be Near" was used on All My Children
  • 2007 12th solo album "REVELATIONS OF THE SECRET DIVA" (MummyPump MPR-4067)
  • 2009 "SHAPING THE NIGHT"/Marty Balin "Nothin' 2 Lose" (Balince Music 7002)
  • 2010 Essra's 1st 3 LPs reissued on CD by Collectors Choice Music


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YouTube Videos

  • Interview (Part 1) Essra Mohawk Interview (Part 1 of 3) Essra talks about Frank Zappa adventures......
  • Interview (Part 2) Essra Mohawk Interview (Part 2 of 3) Forever Young, Grateful Dead, and...
  • Interview (Part 3) Essra Mohawk Interview (Part 3 of 3) n final part, Essra speaks of past...
  • Change of Heart Original demo of Change of Heart (with lyrics) before Cyndi Lauper recorded...
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