Born in the Bucharest suburb of Cărămidari, Maria Tănase studied at the Şcoala primară nr. 11 Tăbăcari making her first stage debut in Caramidarii de Jos, then on the stage of Ion Heliade Rădulescu High School. In 1934, she joined the Cărăbuş Theatre of Constantin Tănase on the advice of newspaper writer Sandu Eliad. Her debut took place on June 2, 1937 with the stage name of Mary Atanasiu in the musical hall theatres, Alhambra and Gioconda. She represented Romania at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937. Together with George Enescu, George Vraca and Constantin Tănase, she organized a series of shows for the injured soldiers on the battlefield.
On February 20, 1937 she made her radio debut and fame came shortly after in 1938, when she made her first recordings for Romanian Society of Radio. These recordings were destroyed in 1940 by the anti-semitic Iron Guard.
In December 1943, she sang at the Christmas festivities at the Royal Cavalry Regiment, where King Michael I of Romania, Ion Antonescu, Mihai Antonescu and all the members of the government were present as guests. After World War II, she performed in the Review Ensemble and the Satirical and Musical Theatre Constantin Tănase. She had parts in the plays The Living Corpse by Leo Tolstoy in 1945, and Horia by Mihai Davidoglu in 1956. In 1944 Maria Tănase sang in Edmond Audran's operetta Mascota (The Mascot). In 1946 she held the main part in the musical comedy The Hollywood Sphinx, by Ralph Benatzky. She sang in the movie Romania in 1947, and in 1958 she performed in both Ciulinii Bărăganului (The Thistles of the Bărăgan), and the short-reel film Amintiri din Bucureşti (Memories from Bucharest). In 1952, Maria Tănase was offered a position at the Music School No. 1 in Bucharest, in the newly created folk song department; 1962 found her guiding Taraful Gorjului (The Gorj Folk Music Band) in Târgu Jiu and the artists there, at her own request. On May 1, 1963, after a concert in Hunedoara, she had to leave the long tour of the famous folk ensemble, because of illness.
In 1955, she received the State Prize and in 1957 she was honored with the medals Ordinul Muncii (The Order for Activity), Premiul de Stat (The State Award), and the title Artistă Emerită (Honoured Artist of the Republic) for her contributions to the arts.
She toured many times in the last 15 years of her life, including over forty trips to New York City. She died of cancer on June 22, 1963 and is buried at St.Vineri cemetery in Bucharest, Romania.