Mary Margaret O'Hara

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Mary Margaret O'Hara
Bornlate 1950s
OriginToronto, Ontario, Canada
Years active1984–present

Mary Margaret O'Hara is a Canadian singer-songwriter, actress and composer. She is best known for the album Miss America, released in 1988. She released two albums and an EP under her own name, and remains active as a live performer, as a contributor to compilation albums and as a guest collaborator on other artists' albums.

Music career[edit]

Early stages[edit]

O'Hara was born in the late 1950s in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to a family of Irish Catholic descent. She is the sister of comedic actress Catherine O'Hara.[1] Her early musical tastes included Van Morrison, Dinah Washington, and her father's jazz records.[2] She was a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design in the 1970s and was involved in the music scene as a member of Toronto bands Dollars, Songship and Go Deo Chorus.[3]

On March 17, 1978, she and her brother, Marcus O'Hara, started the Martian Awareness Ball, an event that continues to this day every Saint Patrick's Day at the Horseshoe Tavern.

In 1983, O'Hara left Go Deo and was signed by Virgin Records. Her contract with Virgin continued and eventually led to the 1988 release of Miss America. O'Hara later reflected on the production experience, noting "I loved the Celtic crosses and the sheep rolling around the hills by the studio in Wales. But for Virgin to go from, 'You can do whatever you want', to 'What have you done?'—that was tough."[2][4]

In addition, she did some work as a graphic artist, including lettering for the cover of Dalbello's album whomanfoursays.

Debut album[edit]

In 1987, Michael Brook saw O'Hara in performance and soon took on the job of producing O'Hara's attempts at an album. He ultimately added new vocals to and remixed material that was originally recorded by Joe Boyd in 1984.[5] At least one of the songs, "To Cry About", had been written as early as 1980.[2] According to the liner notes of a later reissue, six of the tracks were recorded in 1984, four in 1988, and one in 1983 and mixed later.[6]


On their 1990 album The Caution Horses, the Cowboy Junkies recorded a sparse, haunting version of O'Hara's song "You Will Be Loved Again". In 1991, O'Hara followed up with a four-song EP of Christmas material. Following the Christmas EP, O'Hara took on several acting roles and appeared as a vocalist on recordings by a variety of other artists, including Morrissey ("November Spawned a Monster"), John & Mary, Bruce Cockburn, Holly Cole, Bob Wiseman, Meryn Cadell, The Henrys and Neko Case. She performed Dark, Dear Heart at John Candy's funeral in March 1994. She also contributed songs to a number of compilation albums, including tributes to Vic Chesnutt and Kurt Weill, and participated in a 1994 Christmas concert with Holly Cole, Rebecca Jenkins, Jane Siberry and Victoria Williams, which was released as the album Count Your Blessings. As well, she has occasionally performed in musical theatre, most notably productions of Tom Waits' experimental rock opera The Black Rider, stealing the show according to[7]

During an R.E.M. concert in Toronto in 1999, Michael Stipe brought O'Hara on stage and declared her a "national treasure".[citation needed] Other artists who are said to be fans include Kristin Hersh, Radiohead, Dave Matthews and Rickie Lee Jones.[citation needed] However, she did not release a new recording under her own name until 2001, when she and longtime guitarist Rusty McCarthy contributed to the soundtrack for the Canadian film Apartment Hunting (in which she also acted).

On October 4 and 5, 2006, O'Hara performed Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (with Gavin Friday) and "The Window" at Came So Far For Beauty, the Leonard Cohen Tribute organised by Hal Willner at The Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. She performed at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Minehead, England, over the weekend of April 27 to 29, 2007, and with Howe Gelb and friends at the Barbican Centre in London on May 2, 2007.

O'Hara also performed at Toronto's Canwest Cabaret Festival in both 2008 and 2009. In 2008, she performed at tribute shows to Cohen, Weill and Duke Ellington, and in 2009, she participated in a musical improvisation show with Michael Snow and Aidan Closs. She also gave a rare radio interview to promote the 2009 show, appearing on CBC Radio One's Q on October 28 — and performing an impromptu duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with host Jian Ghomeshi.

O'Hara sings the theme song for Someone Knows Something, a true-crime podcast from the CBC.[8] The song was written by Bob Wiseman.

On November 12, 2017, O'Hara performed a rare live show at Le Guess Who? Festival[9] in Utrecht, The Netherlands. O'Hara was invited by artist Perfume Genius who curated a program for the festival.

Work with other artists and acting[edit]

She appeared in the 1985 film The Last Polka as Gerta Lemon, one half of the Lemon Sisters singing duo alongside Catherine as Sylvie Lemon.

In December 1989 she was featured in The Razorbacks' CBC Television Christmas special It's a Razorbacks Christmas Barbeque,[10] for which she received a Gemini Award nomination for Best Performance in a Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series at the 5th Gemini Awards in 1990.[11]

O'Hara sang backup vocals for Morrissey on his song "November Spawned a Monster". She contributed to four albums by Bob Wiseman: In Her Dream, Accidentally Acquired Beliefs, Theme and Variations, and Giulietta Masina At The Oscars Crying. She also contributed to Justin Rutledge's album No Never Alone. She recorded a duet with Tindersticks called "Peanuts", which appeared on their 2010 album Falling Down A Mountain. On May 15, 2009, in Toronto, Will Oldham brought her on stage to perform a cover of John Prine's "In Spite of Ourselves".

O'Hara has made several film appearances. She acts alongside Tom Waits in Candy Mountain (1986), directed by Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer. O'Hara has a leading role in Museum Hours (2012), set in and around the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, directed by Jem Cohen.[12][13]


Musician Steve Adey recorded a song titled "Mary Margaret O'Hara" on his 2006 LP All Things Real.

Adey also covered "To Cry About" on his 2017 LP Do Me a Kindness.

“Something To Cry About” in the short story collection Radium Girl by Sofi Papamarko was inspired by the song “To Cry About” and built around three prompts given to the author by the singer on request.

Bria Salmena recorded a cover of "When You Know Why You're Happy" on her 2023 EP Cuntry Covers, Vol. 2.[14]





  • This Is What I Want (2014)[15]



Year Title Role Other notes
1977 SCTV Prisoner Television series (appeared in one episode)
1985 The Last Polka Gerta Lemon Shmenge Brothers movie, starring John Candy, Eugene Levy and sister Catherine
1988 Candy Mountain Darlene
1991 The Events Leading Up to My Death Rita
2000 Apartment Hunting Helen
2003 Squeezebox Vivienne short film by Andrew Hull
2003 Youkali Hotel Television film
2005 Mr Happy Mother Released in 2005 and 2006
Black Widow Elizabeth Peyton
2012 Museum Hours Anne film by Jem Cohen
2016 The Rising Mary MacDiarmada film by Kevin McCann


  1. ^ "Mary Margaret O'HARA biography". Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Rogers, Jude (December 5, 2008). "Barbican bags Canada's psychic singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O'Hara for Christmas". Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  3. ^ "Mary Margaret O'Hara | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  4. ^ Buckley, Peter, ed. (2003). The rough guide to rock. Rough Guides. pp. 745–746. ISBN 978-1-84353-105-0. Retrieved 14 January 2010.
  5. ^ Larry Crane, "Interview with Joe Boyd", Tape Op, July/Aug 2007
  6. ^ "Mary Margaret O'Hara". Archived from the original on April 25, 2009. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  7. ^ "The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets". 17 May 2006. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  8. ^ "Northern gothic: Bob Wiseman and the SKS theme song". Retrieved 2016-03-29.
  9. ^ "Line-up". Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  10. ^ Greg Burliuk, "Television, of all things, shows us the proper Christmas spirit". Kingston Whig-Standard, December 15, 1989.
  11. ^ Stephen Nicholls, "Avonlea, E.N.G. lead Gemini nominations". Waterloo Region Record, October 24, 1990.
  12. ^ A. O. Scott (June 27, 2013). "Old Masters, Sweet Mysteries". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  13. ^ "Museum Hours critic reviews". metacritic. November 30, 2013. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  14. ^ Ian Gormely, "Bria Plays with the Past on Fiery 'Cuntry Covers Vol. 2'". Exclaim!, February 23, 2023.
  15. ^ "This Is What I Want". Spotify. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  16. ^ Puerto Angel on band homepage
  17. ^ Various Artists: Dark Was the Night: A Tribute to the Music of Blind Willie Johnson at AllMusic. Retrieved February 18, 2015.

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