Marilyn Maye may be in her 80s, but she has the voice and showmanship of a singer half her age. A native of Kansas City, Maye has been a ubiquitous presence on the Midwest and National scene for most of her life, and slows down only occasionally to enjoy it. In addition to her record 76 appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, a recording of hers is included in The Smithsonian Institute’s Best Performers of the Best Compositions of the 20th Century permanent collection.
Taking singing and dancing lessons from her mother, Maye became something of a sensation in the Topeka, KS area as a child, winning talent contests left and right. In addition to cash prizes, she was also awarded a featured spot on a local radio show. Originally a 13-week engagement, the 11-year old held the job for two years.
After hosting her own radio show, “Marilyn Entertains,” throughout high school, she took a job as staff vocalist at Louisville’s WHAS, performing half of each show with full orchestra. When her contract ran out, she took her show on the road, touring the Midwest incessantly for several years before being discovered by television personality Steve Allen. She performed on Allen’s variety show several times, which led to a recording contract with RCA.
Her RCA contract netted seven albums, 34 singles, a Grammy nomination, TV commercial opportunities, and the ear of Ed McMahon, who asked Maye to perform on “The Tonight Show.” She was so well received that host Johnny Carson granted her an open invitation to perform whenever she was in New York (where the show was then based) or later, in Los Angeles.
Recent decades have found Maye moving her show from the disappearing nightclubs to theaters and performing arts centers, either with her trio or occasional big band and orchestra appearances. She even took to the stage, performing in several acclaimed musical theater shows. As the awards keep piling up and the shows keep her traveling, Maye is finding it easier to cement her status as “the greatest white female singer in the world.” – Ella Fitzgerald
What Other People Have Been Saying...
“Calling her a cabaret singer is like calling Pablo Picasso a painter; it’s true all right, but it leaves a lot out!” -Philadelphia Inquirer
“As Marilyn Maye threaded her way from the stage through a packed house of cheering admirers at the Metropolitan Room at the end of Friday’s opening-night performance of “Mercer… the Maye Way,” I overheard comparisons to Judy Garland’s 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall.” -Stephen Holden, NY Times, 6-15-09
“…Maye is a pro’s pro. …she’s clearly having so much fun, the act never feels stale for a second.” – David Wiegund, San Francisco Chronicle, 9-17-09
“The woman is purely electrifying on stage.” – Sandi Burell, Cabaret Scenes
“Marilyn Maye should be designated a national treasure… It was especially interesting watching Anne Hampton Calloway watching Marilyn Maye and being mesmerized. As we all were… There is only one word to describe Marilyn Maye. Perfection.” -Oscar E. Moore, talkentertainment.com
“Marilyn Maye sets the standard for the way any jazz, pop, or big band singer would like to sound,” – Peter Nero, conductor, Philadelphia Pops Orchestra