It’s never polite to ask a lady her age, but Michael Feinstein is letting Kravis Center audiences in on a little secret—the legendary cabaret singer Marilyn Maye is turning 90 this year and he’ll undoubtedly be leading everyone in a jazzy rendition of “Happy Birthday” on March 13.
“I first met Marilyn at least a decade ago, but my parents used to go watch her perform when I was very, very young in Ohio. They were big fans of hers,” Feinstein recalled.
Feinstein’s parents weren’t the only big fans. Late night talk show host Johnny Carson invited Maye to perform on his top-rated “The Tonight Show” an unprecedented 76 times. Those television broadcasts earned her far more fans than gigs in smoky jazz clubs across the country.
In a 2016 interview with the New York Post, Maye speculated, ““I think [Carson] liked me because we were both Midwestern kids. He was from Nebraska, I’m from Topeka (Kansas)…They gave you the choice of doing two songs or one song and then sitting with him on the couch. I’m about the music, so I always opted for two songs.”
“When I first met her, I made such a connection with her because she’s a warm and wise lady, a talent that is undiminished with time. It’s only grown greater with time, because of her experience and savvy,” said Feinstein. “She is an all-around entertainer. She’s comfortable performing in front of people, spontaneous, secure…She’s in the moment, every show is different, energized and unique because of the interaction with the audience.”
In recent years, Maye has kept busy performing on the New York club circuit and crisscrossing the country giving masterclasses to aspiring young performers.
“People who never stop doing what they’re doing always manage to stay young,” Feinstein observed.
Maye will be joining Feinstein in a musical salute to the great women singers. She’ll be singing many of her signature numbers, although Feinstein admitted Maye hadn’t provided her set list to him yet.
“She’s not afraid to be who she is, most importantly, a supreme interpreter of lyrics. She can tell a story—influenced by jazz and blues because she’s from Kansas City—without ever compromising the interpretation,” he said.
Storm Large, a singer Feinstein called “another force of nature, cut from the same cloth (as Maye), both larger than life and spectacularly entertaining” will also be featured in the program and Feinstein will conduct medleys of music made famous by other iconic women, including Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand.
“The Great American Songbook doesn’t have a cap on it, it’s constantly evolving,” he added. “It’s only natural that we’re looking at the songs of the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and beyond that have lasted. Even back in the golden age of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, there were bad songs, too, that never lasted.”
Michael Feinstein conducts the Kravis Center Pops Orchestra in “First Ladies of Song,” featuring Marilyn Maye and Storm Large, on Tuesday, March 13 at 8 p.m. at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Tickets start at $30 at Kravis.org.