Kelly: No swan song yet for Marilyn Maye, 85 -
Published Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:27 am
Kelly: No swan song yet for Marilyn Maye, 85

Nationally known singer Marilyn Maye bought a motor boat at Bahnsen's Sporting Goods in Omaha in 1968 and christened it “Maye Day.”

The wordplay on the distress call “Mayday,” she recalls with a chuckle, came about because “the idea of me and a ski boat would be a disaster.”

Don Gibbs volunteered to tow her boat to Lake Okoboji, Iowa. “I didn't think anything would come of that,” he said, “but we became really close friends.”

Don, a retired Creighton University professor, is one of many friends that the “Amazing Maye” has made in frequent Omaha performances over many decades. But this weekend is different.

After numerous club and cabaret appearances, the American musical icon will sing for the first time with the Omaha Symphony. Tickets for her “American Songbook” shows at 8 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Holland Performing Arts Center range from $19 to $83.

Johnny Carson, who started his broadcast career in Omaha, dubbed her “Super Singer” during her record run of 76 appearances on “The Tonight Show.” One night he looked into the camera after she sang and said, “That, young singers, is how it's done.”

Maye is still doing it. Many of her old Omaha musical haunts are gone — Club 89, Angelo's, Caesar's West, the Flamingo and Peony Park. But she keeps going, figuratively skiing atop the warm waters of a nonstop singing career even at 85.

“I'm busier than I've ever been,” she said this week. “I just keep moving. I love the audiences and the music. I've been receiving lifetime achievement awards, and I tell people I'm not through yet.”

It's a lesson for others. If you're healthy and competent and you love your job, why retire?

“I don't know how to do anything else,” Marilyn quipped. “I can't cook.”

But she cooks onstage, still receiving rave reviews in New York and Los Angeles. Leonard Maltin said recently that he sat with dazzled show-business veterans on Aug. 23.

“I witnessed one of the greatest nightclub performances I've ever seen when singer Marilyn Maye took the stage at Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles,” he wrote. “I've always loved her voice, but here I witnessed her mastery of an audience, her savvy and showmanship.”

Says Gibbs, her Omaha friend of 45 years: “She is absolutely one of the finest singers we have, and the fact that she still sings as well as she ever did is simply astonishing.”

He says he once was “sort of a groupie,” having heard her sing in New York, Kansas City, Mo., Las Vegas and elsewhere. “I even saw her sing at the Kansas state prison.”

Marilyn was born April 10, 1928, in Wichita, Kan., the only child of Kenneth and Lyla McLaughlin. At 7, Marilyn began winning talent contests as her mother accompanied her on piano.

They lived in Topeka and Des Moines, where she sang on radio as a teenager, and she eventually became a staff vocalist in Louis­ville, Ky. She then was booked into The Colony, a supper club in Kansas City, which turned into a long-term gig.

She was “discovered” by TV star Steve Allen. But if not Steve Allen, wouldn't the next person with a national TV show have discovered her?

“Who knows?” Marilyn said. “I sang five nights a week for 11 years at The Colony in Kansas City. You can have great talent and go undiscovered. So much of it is chance and being at the right place at the right time.”

With a movie or miniseries about Carson said to be in the works, Marilyn recalled that Johnny always would pop his head through the doorway of the makeup room and say, “Glad to have you back, Marilyn,” but that she never got to know him well.

“His delivery was so creative, and he was just the best,” she said. “His great talent as an interviewer was that he really listened to what was being said.”

One of Marilyn's dearest Omaha friends was Dr. Lee Bevilaqua, athletic physician for Creighton University as well as for jockeys at the old Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack. He owned a horse that he named “Sound of Maye.”

Marilyn sang at the 1998 funeral of the guy everyone called “Doc.”

Gibbs was a friend of Doc's, and that's how he came to tow the boat to Okoboji, where he jokes that Marilyn became “the terror of the lake.”

She may not water-ski anymore, but she still loves Lake Okoboji, where she has sung for 57 summers in a row. Unlike skiing, her singing does far more than skim the surface.

“She has a real way of telling the story of a song,” Gibbs said. “Some of the things she does are real acting.”

She loves teaching the art of singing in classes, and she loves performing. Later this month, she is booked again at the New York club 54 Below. She also has sung recently in New York at Feinstein's and spoke with singer Michael Feinstein about his performance last year with the Omaha Symphony.

This will be her first time to perform in the 2,000-seat Peter Kiewit Concert Hall.

A Philadelphia critic once wrote that calling Marilyn Maye a jazz cabaret singer is like calling Picasso a painter. It's true, but it leaves a lot out.

This weekend the versatile Maye won't leave a lot out. And when it's all said and sung, the “terror of the lake” will leave lots of happy fans in her wake.

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
After all his bluster and bravado in the courtroom, Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
< >
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »