For singer Marilyn Maye at 92, age isn’t just a number. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything. The chanteuse, who has performed regularly since childhood, continues to perform the Great American Songbook standards and other favorites songs at venues crisscrossing the country as if she were decades younger.
She also offers master classes towards singers, which can stretch on for as long as five hours. Shouldn’t she be slowing down by now?
“I’m a singer,” she says matter-of-factly. “What I do is sing. That’s all there is to it.”
Maye appeared on The Tonight Show more than seventy times and Johnny Carson called her his favorite singer. She has outlasted not just her fellow performers born at the same time, but also much of her audiences. And yet, Maye still packs them in.
Recent reviewers refer to Maye as “a storm let loose that stuns,” “a gift from the gods,” “Superhuman,” “Mesmerizing,” “Masterful,” “Magical,” “Magnetic,” and even…wait for it…“Mega-Memorable.”
Not bad for a singer whose contemporaries have moved from jazz charts to the tail end of actuarial charts.
“I’m very blessed,” she says. “I take a lot of vitamins and no medications. But most of all, I just keep on singing. And I keep selling out venue after venue. I’m a very lucky person.”
Maye’s favorite places to sing include New York’s new performance place at Birdland, as well as the jazz club Iridium and Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Center. Last year, she spoke with CBS Sunday Morning, continuing to amaze, fascinate, and above all, entertain.
“When I was a child,” she recalls, “some bad things happened and suddenly there was no money. I was fifteen when I was performing in my hometown, Kansas City, for $15 a show. I had my own radio show after school. Before long, I was touring the country, singing with big bands, recording, and then making it to The Tonight Show. In many ways, it has been a charmed life.”
Maye says that she has been married three times, “and then the fourth man was the love of my life,” but her longest-lasting love has been music. Maye writes her own arrangements and performs with the energy and joy of singers half, or even one third, of her age.
She just wrapped up one of her annual engagements in Palm Springs, California, and is headed to New York and Birdland for two shows on New Year’s Eve followed by three nights of performances. She’ll also be playing Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below later this winter with runouts to half a dozen cities around the United States.
Maye’s only concession to age is that she sings some songs in a slightly lower key than in the past. “My fifties were my golden age as a performer,” she laughs. “But I’ve still got something left in the tank!”
And she also sells out wherever she goes, from Cape Cod to Minneapolis to Palm Springs, from New York to California. Maye credits the students she teaches in the masterclasses or individually—she has a roster of about a dozen private students now, to help to keep her thinking young.
“Friendships are a very important part of my life,” she says, “and I get so much energy and excitement from working with young singers between teaching and performing.”
Her current show is called “92 and I’m Not Through,” a title she attributes to her lawyer. So if you want to see how songs are meant to be sung, catch Marilyn Maye in New York or another venue near you.
You’ll find what audiences have been discovering for a long time—that a performer can be both ageless and timeless at the same time.