The Incomparable Marilyn Maye

Friend, Teacher and Mentor

My Story of Marilyn Maye

by Rob Davis

I’ve known Marilyn Maye since the Fall of 2013. We met in a most serendipitous and propitious way. I was at my first cabaret “open mic” at the Metropolitan Room. I’d read in a TimeOut Magazine that they held them twice a month and decided to go check out the scene, to decide if I wanted to go back and actually perform myself. I was in for quite a surprise.

The show itself is a parade of wonderful characters there to have their shot at going up on that stage where many great ones have tread, to sing their song, and practice their performance skills. Some are quite experienced and go to try out new material, or work on an upcoming show, while others may be first timers like me. It’s quite nice, in that people are able to get in front of an audience made up of others like themselves, who provide a safe and nurturing place to do so.

Marilyn Maye Performing at 54 Below in NYC April 18,  2017
as recorded by Rob Davis

So there I was, watching it unfold and regretting that I’d chickened out, when lightning struck in the person of Marilyn Maye. I learned later that Deb Berman, the woman who organizes the Sunday sessions, also works with Marilyn when she’s in NYC headlining at one of the top clubs. And when the timing was right, Marilyn would stop by the Metropolitan Room during the open mic to support Deb’s efforts, When one of the singers finished, Deb got up as always to introduce the next one, but this time said,

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am thrilled to let you know that we have a surprise guest today, my friend and mentor, the incredible Marilyn Maye.”

Everyone hooted and stamped their feet and clapped like crazy.

Marylin Maye - Girl Singer.

Produced in 1970 by Joe Rene and Jim Foglesong, this was Marilyn’s last album for RCA.

I was wondering what he hullabaloo was all about as I saw an older, very sharply put together woman ascend to the stage and go into her first song. “My god” I thought. “This person is amazing!” She was also charming and heartfelt, and following her three songs, she gave an inspirational talk urging everyone to pursue their dreams. She also mentioned that she was in town to do a show at Birdland, which became just the first of many MM shows I have seen since.

Following the open mic, I asked Deb about Marilyn, and learned that she was giving a Master Class the next weekend. I signed right up. When I attended the master class, where I got up to work with Marilyn on two songs, she mentioned that she’d be giving some private coaching lessons the following week. That’s how it started.

Since then I have been to many Master Classes and had even more private coaching sessions in my quest to improve my cabaret performance skills. I’ve also produced quite a few of my own shows and appeared as a guest in the show’s of other performers at venues including that same Metropolitan Room, Don’t tell Mama on 46th street’s Restaurant Row, upstairs at Etc, Etc on West 44th and Pangea in the East Village.

Seeing Marilyn perform, is literally like watching a female version of Sinatra, in terms of her comfort on stage, the way she connects with her audience, her phrasing and the quality of her voice. During Johnny Carson’s reign on late night TV, Marilyn appeared more than 70 times on his show, more than any other singer. She has also been referred to as the greatest white jazz singer ever.

To fully explain the magnitude of this vignette, I must add that when I met Marilyn she had just turned 85, and further that on April 17, 2017, I saw her show at Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below, days after her 89th birthday. In fact, these videos come from that show, in which she absolutely kicked some serious ass. Moreover, I think it was one of the best Marilyn Maye performances I’ve seem… AT 89 YEARS OLD!!! If that doesn’t give you some serious inspiration, to shake off the cobwebs and get out there to pursue your dream, nothing ever will! I sincerely hope that it works! 🙂

For myself, all I can say is, thank God I went to that open mic!!!

Click on any of the album covers on this page to purchase the vinyl or CD from Amazon.

Marilyn’s first RCA album was recorded in New York’s Webster Hall in 1965. It was produced by Joe Rene and featured arrangements by both Don Costa and Manny Albam. Not surprisingly Steve Allen authored the album notes, which ended with Allen penning “All in all, this is probably the best damned vocal album of 1965–so there.”

Returning to RCA’s Studio A and B the following year (1968), Marilyn and Joe Rene again collaborated on this album, with Rene not only producing it but also arranging and conducting several of the recordings, along with Glenn Osser and Frank Hunter. The album notes bore only one line: “Let’s Call Her Super-Singer.” It was signed by Johnny Carson.

Again joining forces, Marilyn and Joe Rene collaborated on this second 1967 album, which was produced at Webster Hall and RCA’s Studio A in New York City. The album featured arrangements by Jimmy Wisner, Claus Ogerman, Marty Manning and Sid Bass, all of whom also shared the conducting. Mickey Crofford, who had been the recording engineer on all of Marilyn’s previous albums, was joined by Ed Begley.

Who the Heck is Marilyn Maye? She Made More Appearances on The Tonight Show Than Anyone Else!


Written by BIG CHUCK of CNY News February 15, 2013 

While reading a history of the Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show I stumbled upon an odd fact.

It said that…”singer Marilyn Maye, one of Johnny’s personal favorites  made 76 appearances on the show, which is a record for any entertainer on the show.”  My first thought was “who the heck is Marilyn Maye?”  I feel I know my entertainment  history pretty darn well. But how could I have never heard of the singer who made more appearances on one of my favorite shows than anybody else?

So, I did some research.   Marilyn Maye was a popular supper club singer and musical theater performer.  She starred in traveling productions of Mame, CanCan, Oklahoma and Hello, Dolly!  She made more than a dozen record albums for RCA Records.  In 1965 she was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist.  She has been honored by musical societies all across the United States “for her body of work and her enduring contributions to the American Musical Songbook.”  Marilyn Maye turns 85 years old next month.

This is a pretty impressive factoid…”the most appearances ever on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.”