Natalie Merchant PhotoFirst rising to fame at the helm of the popular folk-rock band 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant subsequently enjoyed even greater success as a solo performer as her plaintive vocals and literate, socially conscious songs established her among the preeminent female performers in contemporary pop. Born October 26, 1963 in Jamestown, NY, Merchant joined 10,000 Maniacs at the age of 17, quickly becoming the band's driving artistic force; after a pair of successful independent releases, they signed to Elektra in 1985, and in the years to follow emerged among the most popular acts in alternative rock, shooting into the Top 40 with 1987's superb In My Tribe.

However, around the time of recording 1992's Our Time in Eden, Merchant gave her bandmates two years notice, and after the release of 1994's MTV Unplugged publicly announced she was leaving their ranks. Her 1995 solo debut, Tigerlily, debuted just shy of the Top Ten, scoring a hit with the single "Carnival; " it was followed in 1998 by Ophelia. Live in Concert, recorded at New York's Neil Simon Theatre, appeared a year later. A prominent social activist, Merchant also regularly campaigned in the name of such hot-button issues as animal rights, domestic violence, and homelessness. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide