It’s never polite to ask a lady her age, so let’s just say Marilyn Maye is a living legend in the world of cabaret and she has no plans to slow down any time soon.
She holds the record for the most performances (76) on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” The iconic talk show host told his audiences of millions, “And that, young singers, is the way it’s done.”
In addition to her busy concert schedule, including a seventh engagement at the Royal Room in Palm Beach this weekend, Maye regularly conducts master classes for aspiring young singers who yearn to adopt her signature style and understanding of The Great American Songbook, the timeless works of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and more.
“Teaching is very exciting to me,” Maye said.
She conducted one such master class for 14 students (with many more on a waiting list) last Sunday at the Royal Room that started at 1 p.m. and ended more than five hours later.
“I get a lot of young people in my audiences who hear those great songs and tell me they’ve never heard them before,” exclaimed the singer in a telephone conversation. “A lot of younger performers do that material, too, but it’s a part of my DNA.”
Those were the first songs Maye learned as a girl in Kansas, performing in live concerts and on the radio. And the songs from the Great American Songbook would help her land a recording contract with RCA, a Grammy nomination and, yes, all those bookings with Johnny Carson.
Maye will be singing many of those numbers in her show at the Royal Room, along with the standards made famous by the greatest crooner of all time, Frank Sinatra.
“It’s a salute to Sinatra and more,” she explained. “We can call it that.”
Maye originally put together the show after Sinatra died and then pulled it out again last year for the centennial of his birth. After performing the show in New York City and at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs—Barry Manilow was among her adoring fans—she predicted audiences in Palm Beach would love it, too.
The Royal Room is just one of the “wonderful places” Maye continues to headline. She sang the “11 o’clock number” to a standing ovation in a tribute to actress Angela Lansbury and also feted composer Stephen Sondheim on his 80th birthday at a gala concert. In April, Maye will celebrate her own 88th birthday with an exclusive one-night engagement at 54 Below in Manhattan.
How does a living legend—an honor conferred by countless organizations—maintain such a rigorous schedule at that age?
With her comfortable Midwestern chuckle, Maye answered, “I take my vitamins.”
She paused for a second and explained, “I’ve never been in the hospital, except to have my daughter. All the doctors ask what I take for my blood pressure and cholesterol and I tell them I take my vitamins. That’s my secret.”
Marilyn Maye appears at the Royal Room at the Colony Hotel, 155 Hammon Ave. in Palm Beach, through Saturday, March 19. Reservations at TheColonyPalmBeach.com.