When we first met singer Marilyn Maye, she was, hard to believe, on the cusp of 90.
It seemed as if nothing could stop her. But then, COVID happened … and, well, it turns out nothing can stop her.
"I'm so glad to be out and singing, ya' know?" she told correspondent Mo Rocca. "I lost a very valuable year for me. I missed my whole 92nd birthday. But who's counting!"
Rocca was there as Maye turned 93 in April, celebrating – how else? – with a sold-out show at Boca Raton's Wick Theatre.
But as Billy Stritch, her longtime accompanist, can attest, Maye's age is beside the point: "She sings pretty good for 93. She sings pretty good for 23! She sings rings around almost everybody. And she's still the greatest to me."
Stritch, a cabaret headliner in his own right, met Maye some 40 years ago, when he was just 17. "She's always kind of been like my Auntie Mame, in a way," he said. "There are moments when I'm just watching her in profile, and I just have these out-of-body kind of moments where it's like, 'Jesus, look at what she's doing!'"
What's she's been doing for nearly eight decades now is singing … on vinyl, on variety shows, and in a Lincoln-Mercury car commercial that's still a crowd favorite.
Marilyn Maye performs on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson":
But Maye's home has always been the road. And 2020 was shaping up to be a BIG year.
She said, "I was booked a lot, more than even usual. I think they thought the old girl was gonna kick off any minute, so we better hire her, you know?"
But as COVID spread, so did the cancellations.
"It was pretty dramatic for me, and traumatic for me," Maye said.
Traumatic? "Yeah. This is what I do. This is kind of my whole being, is to entertain and sing that Great American Songbook. This is what I was put on this Earth to do. I can't cook; I just sing!"
And Maye wasn't about to let a pesky pandemic stop her. So, she sang wherever she could … on a driveway in her hometown of Kansas City …
... without a live audience on public television …
… and last summer, in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
"They always smile and applaud a lot, and stand up, and cheer, and laugh a lot," she said. "But this year, they cried. I did, 'What the World Needs Now.' And they cried, you know? Sat at the tables and cried."
"So, the performance took on a whole other meaning for them?" asked Rocca.
"Absolutely. And for me."
Rocca asked Stritch, "Where do you see Marilyn Maye in five years?"
"Still doing kicks at the end of 'It's Today,'" he said. "If someone would've asked me, you know, I wouldn't even think of this when she turned 80, will we still be doing this at 93? And now it's just passed a point where it's like, 'Well, why not go to 100?'"
Rocca asked Maye, "Was there ever a moment in this past year where you thought, 'You know what? It's a global pandemic. Maybe I should think about retiring'?"
"Never," she said. "Never. You know that, Mo. Never."
"I do know that. I just thought I should ask it!"
"It's not in my vocabulary," Maye said. "The word retirement has never been in my vocabulary. Oh, no!"
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Story produced by Mary Lou Teel. Editor: Lauren Barnello.