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Marilyn Maye (born April 10, 1928) is an American cabaret singer and musical theatre actress. She began her career as a young child performing in Kansas in both live concerts and on the radio. After graduating from high school, she moved to Chicago where she drew the attention of Steve Allen, performing first on The Steve Allen Show and later The Tonight Show. She holds the distinction of being the most frequently heard singer in the history of the latter program. She made numerous recordings with RCA during the 1960s, after which she has had a highly successful career as a cabaret artist, continuing to this day. She has also occasionally appeared on the stage in musicals.
Born Marilyn Maye McLaughlin to Lyle (or Kenneth) and Lila (or Lyla) McLaughlin in Wichita, Kansas, she began her career as a child, competing in amateur contests in Topeka, Kansas, where her father, a pharmacist, owned a drugstore. She was accompanied on piano by her mother, who had named her daughter for her own favorite entertainer, musical theater star Marilyn Miller. In 1942, after her parents divorced, she moved with her mother to Des Moines, Iowa. She began her musical training with her mother at the age of 3. At the age of 9 she began taking voice lessons with Rosamond Nyman, a teacher of classical singing, in Topeka.
At age 14, while attending Amos Hiatt Junior High School, she sang for songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and got her own 15-minute radio show on station KRNT. Another source puts the 13-week show on WIBW (580 AM), followed by a live broadcast from the Jayhawk Theater each Saturday morning for two years. She graduated from East High School. After moving to Chicago, she played "every Moose and Elks club in the state of Illinois" Moving then to Kansas City, she came to the attention of Steve Allen, who invited her to appear on his show; shortly thereafter, she signed a recording contract with RCA. She appeared on The Tonight Show a record 76 times, and received a Grammy Awards nomination for “Best New Artist” of 1965.
In addition to recordings and regular guest-appearances on television, she worked the nightclub circuit (calling the venues “upholstered sewers”). As supper-club culture declined, she took roles in musical theater, including Can-Can, Mame and Hello, Dolly. Her career revived with a 2006 concert appearance at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall for the Mabel Mercer Foundation.
In 2008, she received a Distinguished Arts Award from the Governor of Kansas. Other honors include the Jazz Heritage Award, the Kansas City Jazz Ambassador’s Award of Excellence, the Elder Statesmen of Jazz Award, and lifetime achievement awards from both the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and Kansas City's CODA Jazz Fund.
She was named an Official Jazz Legend by The American Jazz Museum. She was listed as one of the Best Performers of the Best Compositions of the 20th Century by The Arts Council of The Smithsonian Institution for her recording of Lerner and Lowe¹s composition, Too Late Now.
On September 18, 2012, the Native Sons and Daughters of Greater Kansas City (NSDGKC) honored Maye with the organization's "Outstanding Kansas Citian-2012" Award. Over 500 people attended the recognition dinner at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center in Downtown Kansas City, Mo. In addition to honoring the hometown Jazz legend, NSDGKC presented a historic marker to Greg Carroll, Chief Executive Officer of the American Jazz Hall of Fame (located at 18th and Vine Sts.) in Kansas City, Mo. Following the dinner and presentations, the 83-year-old icon performed an hour-and-a-half concert of her best-known Jazz songs in the Center's Helzberg Hall.
On October 14, 2012, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Cabaret Professionals Association.
Her voice was heard in 1969 radio ads for Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division, parodying her hit "Step To The Rear".
Marilyn Maye has one daughter, Kristi Tucker, born Oct. 1952, who teaches at the Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice in Overland Park, Kansas. Marilyn lives with Ms. Helen Zarda, her assistant, in Overland Park.