Marilyn Maye can't recall whether she has made a stop in Pittsburgh in her 85 years, but she plans to make up for that oversight on Monday night, when she opens the second season of the Trust Cabaret Series.
The engagement is sandwiched between concerts with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra and engagements at Rose Hall in Lincoln Center and 54 Below, the hub of New York's traditional cabaret scene.
The effervescent entertainer won raves for a March run at 54 Below, when Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, "She has more voice and stamina than most singers half her age. Her voice is full and rich and perfectly in tune, and she displays a voluptuous enjoyment of singing. She is a symbol of resilience."
The secret to maintaining her voice is to keep on singing, she said.
"The more you work, the more you keep it oiled. The more you use it, you don't lose it," Ms. Maye said. "I do a lot of master classes and a lot of teaching, too ... and it's been wonderful because I don't sing in the shower, I don't sing at home, but with the classes and the teaching privately, I'm singing every day."
Back in the day, Ms. Maye could be seen touring the country with her cabaret shows or on variety shows -- she holds the record for appearances by a singer on "The Tonight Show" at 76, and Johnny Carson said after one of her numbers, "And that, young singers, is the way it's done." She has seven albums on the RCA label and singles that include the first hit recording of "Cabaret," before the show debuted on Broadway.
A child of the stage, her career includes 11 years staying put while raising a daughter in Kansas City, Mo., where she had been discovered by Steve Allen. Kansas City remained her home base as she taped TV shows and was booked into clubs such as the Copacabana and Rainbow Grill in New York and The Drake and The Palmer House hotels in Chicago.
Among the changes in her many years of singing the American songbook are the ebb and flow of great rooms like those. When the cabaret scenes were drying up, she never stopped working, touring in shows such as "Follies," "Hello, Dolly" and "Mame"-- "all those shows where the lady was a singing star."
A recent resurgence of venues for cabaret has brought her to New York more and to unexplored places like Pittsburgh.
"The clubs started coming back throughout the country, and I'm very grateful," she said. "We just came from Catalina's Jazz Club in California and we had lots of celebrities there. Debbie Reynolds always comes to see me, and she was there with 12 people. Bob Mackie has been in my audience so much we've become friends and he's doing the wardrobe for me these days."
Among the changes for her audience is that instead of tuning in to a weekly variety show hosted by, say, Merv Griffin, you now can access a clip of her recent performance at 54 Below on YouTube, a prospect that "sometimes is horrifying," she said, laughing.
"They'll sit there at a table, you don't see that little tiny iPhone and the sound is less than desirable. ... You have no power over that; it's not a thrilling idea. However, I do realize more and more of the work is known and my name is known, and hopefully they will come and hear it live. It's much better live."
Ms. Maye speaks in the "we" when she talks about her life on the road, which includes longtime band members Tedd Firth on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass and Jim Eklof on drums. When the word "retirement" is mentioned, she says it's not in her vocabulary.
"I've got to keep moving. This is a joy for me, this is my passion. It's what I do and what I'm about. No matter what, I always found an avenue to work."
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960.