When, Where and How did Laura Nyro first meet her eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio?
The purpose of this talk page is to stimulate a discussion that might lead to ascertaining when, where, and how these two women first met.
CURRENT UPDATE May 2011.
I believe the evidence, here to date, warrants the following assumptions. Laura and Maria met for the first time when Maria, a self-described native of Brooklyn, was 12/13 years old, taking keyboard lessons from Alice Coltrane. Laura was smitten. “So let the wind blow, Timer …I like her song.” Their “flame” relationship was eventually revealed. “Emmie your mama’s been a callin’ you.” As a consequence of Maria’s tender age of 13, she was relocated to Torrance, CA, circa late ’67. In 1970, Maria and Zoe first meet at Bishop Montgomery High School. It is likely that “Lauria” rendezvous at a live concert in June 1971, possibly to celebrate Maria’s 17th birthday. Instead of “cuddling in Mama’s garden,” they do the “wild thing.” Laura in her personal attribution of “Dèsiree” boasts the occasion and on “the down low” declares Maria Desiderio to be her soul mate. In 1976, Maria and Zoe become lovers and live together as life partners, even exchanging rings. In mid 1978, at the Roxy Theatre, on a fan line with Zoe, “Lauria” again see each other. Laura is very pregnant. That was all that was needed to rekindle the “flame.” They begin a correspondence. Alice was the likely go-between. From 1980 to Labor Day Weekend 1982, “Lauria” were having an affair which Zoe unmasked. Immediately, Maria goes East to live with Laura. It can be fairly stated that Maria Desiderio was Laura Nyro’s soul mate. Maria Desiderio’s passion was painting and her obsession was Laura Nyro. The rest is Herstory.
In 2002, Michele Kort authored the biography of Laura Nyro, Soul Picnic. Kort quotes Wendy Werris’ claims that in the early 1980’s, Zoe Ananda, Maria’s former life partner, told Werris “Oh, Maria moved to Connecticut to live with Laura Nyro.” ibid p. 196.
But this fails to answer the questions of when, where and how the initial meeting occurred. In fact, Kort answers the how question this way. “None of Nyro’s close friends are certain how she met Maria Antonia Desiderio.” ibid p. 196. In her second footnote to page 196. Kort wrote “how she met Maria: I couldn’t confirm the story that they may have met through musician Alice Coltrane, from whom Desiderio supposedly took keyboard lessons.” ibid p. 305. (see also comment 10. by DJ M, infra)
According to Zoe Ann “Ananda” Nicholson, Maria’s ex, the following is true. Maria and Zoe first met in 1970. Zoe claimed that even back then, Maria was already obsessed with Laura Nyro. Zoe and Maria became lovers in 1976. Sometime in 1978, Laura met Zoe and Maria on a fan line at the Roxy in Los Angeles. Much to Zoe’s astonishment, sometime in 1980, Laura showed up in the “Gypsy with dog and child” at Zoe/Maria’s Magic Speller bookstore. Zoe threw Maria out on Labor Day Weekend 1982. Around 1986, Zoe, Laura and Maria reformed a deep friendship until Laura’s death. Zoe is emphatic that all three: Zoe, Laura and Maria were bisexual, but living in and embracing the radical, feminist, lesbian subculture. (see links below &/or) Zoe insists Laura told her, expressly, that “Walk the Dog and Light the Light” was about Maria. Zoe confirmed that Maria liked older women both Laura and Zoe were six to seven years older than Maria. Zoe, “Maria was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. And she loved me! Surprised in love.” ¹
A puzzling quote is Michele Kort’s claim “Those who knew Maria Desiderio say that she was even more private than Laura…” ibid p. 217. This is in contradiction to Maria’s picture published in the Lesbian Tide March/April 1978, Community Focus, p. 27. It shows Maria with her mom, Irene, and Zoe Ananda with her mom. All four women are beaming smiles in what could only be described as a “recruiting poster” for PFLAG. It has always intrigued me as to what prompted this once “out & proud” lesbian back into the closet? In further contrast is the quote accompanying the picture “…Maria…and Zoe…consider themselves the ‘luckiest lesbians alive’ because they have experienced little discrimination regarding their lifestyle…”
Surprising is this comment, by Michelle Kort, discounting “Emmie” as a lesbian love song. “Emmie” “was a favorite of her mother – hardly the endorsement one would expect for her daughter’s paean to her female lover.” ibid , p. 197. Both Maria’s mom, Irene, and Zoe’s mom were enthusiastic about their daughters’ relationship. They were as “out & proud” as their daughters. They fully supported the creation of the “Majic Speller,” a lesbian owned/ lesbian friendly bookstore. Laura’s dad said of Maria “She was like another daughter, a lovely woman.” ibid, p. 198. Why wouldn’t Laura’s mom have been proud of her daughter’s creation “Emmie,” even as a Sapphic paean?
The naysayers can argue all they want, they can’t get around “Désiree.” Laura’s July 1971, recording was her paean to Maria, perhaps, to mark Maria’s 17th birthday. She titled the song in a unique way, Désiree. Laura recited her beloved’s name, Désiree, 14 times in 1:48 min/sec. Maria’s last name Desiderio means desire; Désiree means desire. Kort mentions in Soul Picnic, that Désiree was stripped down to voice, piano, and vibes with “Nyro smoothly harmonizing with herself.” ibid p. 133. Her treatment of this cover was a personal attribution. Laura insured that this song would be just so. Désiree was her undisguised & open expression of sensual surrender. Laura is singing of her love reverie for another woman.
On the June 5, 2009, Debra J. Wolstein posted this comment on facebook.com, concerning Lauria. “Laura & Maria had to have at least tested the waters in the early 70’s for that song to have manifested in ’71 as such a personal tribute of love and desire…because of the unmistakably erotic/romantic quality of that song (again, I agree that she re-wrote it as a subtle reference to Maria “Desiderio”) and other songs to follow,” ²
Désiree – link below
If Maria is the inspiration for “Désiree,” is it such a stretch to trace the origin of the flame back to 1967? This is especially true as Laura noted the occasion with her songs “Timer” and “Emmie.” Maria was thirteen; Laura was nineteen. “So let the wind blow Timer…I like her song and if the song goes minor – I won’t mind.” The lyrics “oo who stole Mama’s heart and cuddled in her garden? Darlin’ Emmie, la la la, oo la la la…” are a candid description of female intimacy.
To memorialize: Maria n Laura ’67 “carved in the heart of a berry tree,” Laura left us her keepsake of Maria. It is on the back cover of the vinyl dust jacket of Eli. In March 1968, Columbia released the thirteen-track vinyl record. Creativity wise, her recently negotiated four album contract with CBS gave her carte blanche. It was not an exaggeration that Laura listed herself on Eli’s back cover as “the writer, composer, voices, piano and witness to the confession.” As such, she would have been free of any inhibition in witnessing the confession in a graphic way. On May 22, 2007, Gregor von Kallahann, in his review of ”Soul Picnic” for Amazon.com reported, “Even as a teenager growing up in a small town in Maine, some of my friends said knowingly… that Laura was ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ …How else could you explain that back cover on ELI…?” On August 12, 2007, Michele Kort posted a rave comment on the von Kallahann review.
There are the other explanations of the silhouetted picture being a double exposure and/or a three-quarter angle of a young Laura. Brian Van der Horst, in his April 1968 review of Eli in the New York Free Press, Critique – 4, p. 8, ingeniously, described it as “representing the parting chrysalis of her old life.” Assuming it true, notwithstanding, the back cover is a memento of her then “flame” and eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio.
N.B. Even though the back cover is ostensibly benign, nevertheless, Google considered the Laura Nyro popmatters image/rendering to contain “explicit sexual content”? Google is no longer restricting access to the Laura Nyro popmatters image.
The following link is a copy of the back cover of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. N.B. The image below is available on GOOGLE in all but the safe mode. .
I believe the evidence, here to date, warrants the following assumptions. Laura and Maria met for the first time when Maria was 12 and taking keyboard from Alice Coltrane. Laura was smitten. Their “flame” was eventually revealed. “Emmie your mama’s been a callin’ you.” Maria was relocated to Torrence, CA, circa late ’67. “Lauria” rendezvous in June 1971, possibly to celebrate Maria’s 17th birthday. Instead of “cuddling in Mama’s garden,” they do the “wild thing.” Laura in, her personal attribution, “Dèsiree” boasts the occasion, while also declaring “on the down low” Maria to be her soul mate. In mid 1978, at the Roxy Theatre, they again see each other on a fan line with Zoe. Laura is very pregnant. That was all that was needed to rekindle the “flame.” They begin a correspondence. Alice was the likely the go-between. From 1980 to Labor Day Weekend 1982, “Lauria” were having an affair which Zoe unmasked. Maria goes East to live with Laura. The rest is Herstory.
Laura living in and embracing the radical, feminist, lesbian subculture. Thanks denknee
N.B. 0:14 thru 0:20
“Sappho was a poet, Billie was a real musician, Frida drew the moon.”
¹ Comment underscoring photograph 1. Zoe & Maria, opposite page 86. The Hungry Heart by Zoe Ann Nicholson.
³ A curious coincidence, with the year of Maria’s birth, is the 1954 movie Désirée which starred Jean Simmons. She played Désirée, the mistress of Napoleon. The movie was based upon the 1951 historical novel by Annemarie Selinko. The book was about Désirée Clary, a mistress of Napoleon, who eventually became Queen Desideria of Sweden. In 1954 et seq., the name Désirée became all the rage.