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NEW YORK - When Maude Maggart was growing up in New York City, she often found herself halfway between Bette Midler and Celia Cruz.
"My parents were Broadway performers," she explains. "They met in the cast of `Applause.' So we always had Broadway-style music playing.
"Then, in the summer, we'd throw the windows open and, because we were right across from the Hudson River parks where people at the barbecues were blasting salsa, we became the musical meeting ground."
Whatever the specific seeds, both of Brandon Maggart and Diane McAfee's two daughters headed into music.
Fiona, the younger, got there first. As Fiona Apple, she was a teenager when she recorded the triple-platinum "Tidal" in 1997.
Maude has followed a different route. "I took opera lessons for a while," she says. She laughs. "The lighter side - like Puccini."
But she found she gravitated toward golden-age standards, which explains why her upcoming CD is loaded with Irving Berlin songs. That's what she's singing in her encore engagement at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, through Oct. 8.
At her last Oak Room show, she sang the songs of 1933, which so enchanted radio host Garrison Keillor that he invited her onto his nationally syndicated "A Prairie Home Companion." Once there, she sang an almost unprecedented six songs.
"All he asked me was what I'd like to do," says Maggart. "He's a wonderful person, incredibly generous to artists."
Locally, her CD "With Sweet Despair" can be heard on Jonathan Schwartz's WNYC and XM satellite-radio shows. That CD is built on elegant renditions of classics like "42nd Street," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Night and Day."
She isn't only drawn to the past, she says, and she expects future shows to include contemporary favorites like Joni Mitchell's "Cactus Tree." But she says standards will always be there.
"I love great lyrics," she says. "When I read them, I want to sing them."
Longer-term, Maggart isn't sure exactly what direction her career will take. She's not making pop-radio records right now, but as other singers have proven, that's all right.
"I think you can follow your artistic vision, touch people and still get rewards for your work," she says. "I think a career kind of unfolds in its own way. You can't always plan it."
(c) 2005, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.