Jazz singer Marilyn Maye, 94, performs free show to celebrate Hoyt Sherman Place's 100th season

·3 min read
Marilyn Maye helped Hoyt Sherman Place celebrate 100 years.
Marilyn Maye helped Hoyt Sherman Place celebrate 100 years.

If Marilyn Maye hadn't started her eight-decade entertainment career while she was in high school, she would have gotten better grades in her Spanish class.

"I went to East High and during that time, my last lesson during the school day was Spanish," said Maye, 94. She skipped that final class to host her KRNT radio program, “Marilyn Entertains," which she was in charge of by age 15.

“I was a weird girl," she added. "I was already grown up.”

She hasn't stopped performing since then. Her next appointment is in Des Moines to help usher in the centennial season at Hoyt Sherman Place.

Maye, a Grammy-nominated performer who grew up in Des Moines, will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Hoyt Sherman Place, 1501 Woodland Ave., as part of the venue's Jazz in July series.

“I worked with her before in different venues and knew of her reputation and actually saw her in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and I’d been impressed with her for 25 years," said Robert Warren, the executive director at Hoyt Sherman Place. "Then when I got to Des Moines and found out she was an East High grad, I thought, ‘We’ve got to bring her here.’”

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Though she maintains a busy schedule that consists of doing work as a voice instructor and selling out New York City venues, when Maye received an e-mail from Hoyt Sherman Place asking her to perform there, she was excited to return.

"I will probably do a lot of material that is me, stuff I do in clubs and theaters," said Maye, also noting she expects to perform "Step to the Rear" — which she tweaked for former Gov. Robert D. Ray's campaign — and the East High School song.

"They used it so much in every campaign they did, maybe the third or fourth campaign, the opponents… put up bumper stickers that said ‘If you don’t like what’s happening in Iowa, don’t blame me, blame Marilyn,’” she added.

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Coming with Maye from New York are the instrumentalists she's been performing with for roughly two decades, although her drummer is a Des Moines resident. Jim Eklof, a Drake University graduate, is a local drummer who played with Maye for 50 years.

Maye appeared more than 75 times on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," performed in honor of famed composer Stephen Sondheim and conquered the worlds of musical theater and jazz performance. Still, she shows no signs of slowing down.

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"She’s got 28 gigs booked for this summer," Warren said. "At 94 years old, she’s still going strong."

Maye's upcoming appearance at Hoyt Sherman Place is free to attend with seating based on a first-come first-served basis. More information about the event can be found at hoytsherman.org.

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Des Moines Register. Reach him at ihamlet@gannett.com or 319-600-2124, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Jazz singer Marilyn Maye returns to Des Moines' Hoyt Sherman