A frequent performer on National Public Radio's A Prairie Home Companion, Schmidt was born in Michigan in 1953. She was first exposed to folk music after moving to Chicago in 1974 to work as a secretary and office manager. Inspired by the Windy City's folk music community, which included Steve Goodman
, Jim Post
, and Bob Gibson
, Schmidt taught herself to play Appalachian dulcimer, 12-string guitar, and the deluxe pianolin, a 52-string, zither-like instrument. Within five years, Schmidt had left her day job and sought her fortune as a musician. Schmidt's self-titled debut album, released in 1979, established her as one of the Midwest's best singer/songwriters. It was issued by the Illinois-based Flying Fish
label, for whom Schmidt would record three more albums -- 1981's Midwestern Heart, 1983's New Goodbyes, Old Hellos, and 1985's Out of the Dark -- as well as a duo set with her friend and occasional collaborator Sally Rogers
, 1987's Closing the Distance. In 1987, Schmidt also struck a new deal with Red House Records
, beginning with the album Big Earful, and she also appeared on Steve Tibbetts
' Exploded View.
In 1991, Schmidt released her second album for Red House
, Essential Tension, as well as another collaboration with Sally Rogers
, While We Live. Schmidt's next project found her composing the score, in collaboration with director Frank Calati, of a modern translation of Bertolt Brecht
's play A Good Person in Setzuan. Presented at the Goodman Theater in Chicago in May 1992, the score received a prestigious Joseph Jefferson Award. In 1994, she issued It Looks Fine from Here, after which Schmidt took a long break from recording. She moved back to her home state of Michigan with her husband, Bill Pellardino, to operate a bed-and-breakfast in an old log farmhouse they restored on Lake Michigan's Beaver Island. She has since relocated off the island and settled in Traverse City.
Schmidt began recording again in the 21st century, with some of her work exploring her passion for jazz, starting with 2001's I Thought About You and including 2006's Live at the Dakota, recorded at the Dakota jazz club in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Released in 2010, Promising Sky was recorded by Claudia Schmidt & Her Funtet, a band blending folk, jazz, and funk influences. Schmidt and Sally Rogers
reunited for the 2012 album Evidence of Happiness; they teamed up again in 2016 with We Are Welcomed. In between collaborations, Schmidt recorded a solo effort, 2014's New Whirled Order, and in 2018 she released Hark the Dark, a song cycle inspired by the winter season, a subject Michiganians have many months to ponder. Schmidt has also offered fans a unique look back at her catalog with a digital box set issued on a thumb drive, featuring a wealth of music, images, and interviews. ~ Craig Harris & Mark Deming, Rovi