Despite being born in Athens, Georgia (USA), Madeleine Peyroux is widely known as a French jazz singer because of her Parisian upbringing. She actually grew up between Brooklyn, California (in the southern part of the state) and Paris, France, but it was the City of Lights where she first became interested in music and singing. A good portion of her released tracks are indeed in the romantic French language, like "J'ai Deux Amours" and "La Vie En Rose," for example. Her surname is French as well, pronounced "Peru" like the country. Madeleine's two albums that she's most famous for are Careless Love and Dreamland. Her music tends to be a blend of acoustic blues, country ballads, torch songs and pop. Her dreamy voice has been described as being of the "smoke and whiskey" type and she has often been compared to Billie Holiday.

It was 1974 when Madeleine entered the world, born to two radical parents. Her father grew up in Louisiana and Texarkana and was employed as a university drama and film instructor. Her mother, Deirdre, was a French teacher. Her parents met in Canada during the Vietnam War and moved from Georgia to Southern California when she was very young. Her father pursued an acting career there. Madeleine first picked up a guitar as a small child and was inspired by music in her father's record collection which included New Orleans jazz, Hank Williams and Fats Waller. While in California she became enamored with the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Whitney Houston.

It was in 1987 when she made the big move to France with her mother, just when Madeleine was entering her teen years. "Moving to Paris in 1987 after my mother was offered a job there was the big leap for me," she recalled. "Suddenly I was taken away from that American junk radio which had a real lack of sensitivity towards the music they played. I got me jazz, there was a real warmth there."

While in her teens Madeleine discovered the folk music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and became a street musician. Madeline was more rebellious than the typical teenager, mostly due to the big move to a foreign country and her parents' divorce. It was extremely difficult for her at first and her class-cutting forced her mother to put her in Littlehampton, an all-English girl boarding school. This didn't help at all, as she hated the strict regime there. She escaped Littlehampton, borrowed some money from a friend in London, and hitchiked from Calais back to Paris. After returning, she met up with some street musicians in the Latin Quarter. This is where she had her epiphany and discovered what she had to do. She cut school to hang out with them and moved out of her home permanently when she was just fifteen years old.

"I was such a determined, big teenager," she said of her moving-out, "that my mom couldn't stop me. I was resourceful , I had my guitar and some talent so that I could make friends with intelligent people and could talk my way out of difficult situations.

"The greatest thing was that while I was often in danger I never got into any trouble. I feel like Buster Keaton in having survived so many close calls, leaving home at 15, living on the street, traveling around Europe with people who weren't necessarily trustworthy, constantly putting myself at risk in crazy jeopardized situations."

After being a hat-passer for the Riverboat Shufflers, she gave an acappella, street corner, audition for Dan Fitzgerald, the leader of The Lost Wandering Blues & Jazz Band, singing the only song in her repetroire "Georgia." She got the gig and became the only female member of the group, which toured around Europe for several years. By the time she was 18 she had decided she was done with the street musician life because of the toll the harshness of street-living was taking on her psyche. In 1996, after being spotted by and signed to Atlantic Records, she recorded her first album, Dreamland. She suddenly found herself on the fast track to fame and opening for the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Cesaria Evora while sales of Dreamland were skyrocketing. Reviewers were amazed by her, wondering how a girl so young could perform classic songs by Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Patsy Cline so convincingly as to make them sound like her own. Time said Dreamland was "the most exciting, involving vocal performance by a new singer (in 1996)."

She found herself back in America and while there was invited to be in Lilith Fair. After that was when she opened for Sarah Mclachlan.

The quick and fairly unexpected jump to fame caused Madeleine to retreat and virtually disappear from the public life. For eight years she was almost unheard from, this being a time period she doesn't talk a lot about, except to say she took that time to reconnect with her family and encountered some negative record company politics. After a few false starts, orphaning a few tracks, and divorcing herself from Atlantic, she signed with independent Rounder records in 2003. In 2004 she burst back onto the scene with Careless Love, her sophomore effort. It was produced by Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin). Like with her previous album, she once again brought together an eclectic mix of timeless songs and gave them her unique folk blues twist, adding in one original song, "Don't Wait Too Long." It featured W. C. Handy's bluesy title track, which was popularized by Bessie Smith in the late 1920s, and others like Elliott Smith's folksy "Between the Bars." She also covered Hank Williams and Leonard Cohen’s "Dance Me to the End of Love" (my personal favorite).

Has she disappeared again?

In August of 2005 it was reported that, after being part of a hot summer jazz scene, she all but vanished. She failed to show up for promotional duties. It even got to the point that Universal Classics, a branch of Universal Records, hired a private detective to find her! It ended up being an embarassing affair for Universal, as she was promptly found in New York with her manager.

Turns out, Madeleine wasn't planning another eight-year hiatus; Half the Perfect World was released on September 12, 2006 in which she collaborated with several artists, including Jesse Harris, Walter Becker, Larry Klein (producer of the album), and k.d. lang, with whom Madeleine dueted on the song "River," a Joni Mitchell cover.


Dreamland (1996) - Atlantic Records

  1. Walkin' After Midnight
  2. Hey Sweet Man
  3. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter
  4. (Getting Some) Fun Out Of Life
  5. La Vie En Rose
  6. Always A Use
  7. A Prayer
  8. Muddy Water
  9. Was I?
  10. Dreamland
  11. Reckless Blues
  12. Lovesick Blues

Careless Love (2004) - Rounder

  1. Dance Me To The End Of Love
  2. Don't Wait Too Long
  3. Don't Cry Baby
  4. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
  5. Between The Bars
  6. No More
  7. Lonesome Road
  8. J'ai Deux Amours
  9. Weary Blues
  10. I'll Look Around
  11. Careless Love
  12. This Is Heaven To Me

Half the Perfect World (2006) - Rounder/Universal

  1. I'm All Right – (cowritten with Walter Becker and Larry Klein)
  2. The Summer Wind
  3. Blue Alert (by Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas)
  4. Everybody's Talking (by Fred Neil)
  5. River (by Joni Mitchell, performed with k.d. lang)
  6. All I Need Is A Little Bit
  7. Once In A While
  8. (Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night (by Tom Waits)
  9. Half The Perfect World (by Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas)
  10. La Javanaise
  11. California Rain
  12. Smile

You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (2005)

  1. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
  2. Between The Bars
  3. Dance Me To The End Of Love

Got You On My Mind (2003)

  1. Back In Your Own Back Yard
  2. J'ai Deux Amours
  3. Got You On My Mind
  4. The Way You Look Tonight
  5. Heaven To Me
  6. Playin'
  7. Heaven Help Us All

Don't wait too long (2004) - Rounder

  1. Don't wait too long
  2. You're gonna make me lonesome when you go

And then there's a mysterious album with no date or recording company, Majors for Minors.

  1. All 8 Tracks
  2. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  3. Hush A Bye Baby
  4. Brahm's Lullaby
  5. Rock A Bye Baby
  6. Mozart's Lulaby
  7. Three Blind Mice
  8. London Bridge
  9. Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush


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