In an award-winning career that has spanned 40 years and over 25 recordings, singer-actress Maureen McGovern keeps coming back to her true passion – performing live.
“I just love performing,” McGovern said by phone from an extended concert stop in Palm Springs. “The show is a journey every night. It’s a train we get on together – the audience and myself – and take this journey. It’s cathartic in a way, for me. It’s also just a joy – I work with such incredible musicians, and I feel very blessed about that. And at 62, to still be doing what I love, I’m grateful for that too.”
McGovern is the vocalist behind Oscar-winning songs “The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure” and “We May Never Love Like This Again” from “The Towering Inferno,” which earned her the nickname “The Disaster Theme Queen” in the ‘70s.
Sheldon performance planned Saturday
But McGovern’s current nickname, “The Stradivarius Voice,” is perfect for her performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Sheldon Concert Hall, a cozy, acoustically perfect venue in St. Louis about 20 minutes east of and .
“I love small, intimate theater, and I always do something in the show a cappella and off-mic,” she said. “I love it because the audience, I can feel them breathing with me. So I’m looking forward to that.”
The majority of The Sheldon concert will feature McGovern singing from “The Long and Winding Road,” her latest CD.
“It’s all Boomer, singer-songwriter classics from what the New York Times calls the second half of the Great American Songbook,” she said. “In the ‘70s I was the Disaster Theme Queen, and then I went to Broadway in the ‘80s and started doing jazz and theater and classical, pop, Great American Songbook and big band stuff. I immersed myself in all that music. So this is kind of a coming home.”
Revisiting music of 'iconic singer-songwriters' proves rewarding
McGovern started out as a folk singer, singing and appreciating the music of James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman and others.
“Great songs by those iconic singer-songwriters. Putting the show and the album together was like re-living my whole youth,” she said, laughing. “I decided not to do it as a museum piece, but as what’s relevant about these songs today. You take Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a Changing,’ and that could have been written this morning. That’s just a classic, classic piece.”
Revisiting songs by those artists, plus The Beatles, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Judy Collins, was a pleasant trip down memory lane.
“Going back to explore this – it was just a very rich time of my coming of age,” she said. “Listening to the songs informed my very philosophy of life. So it was a joy to do this.”
McGovern is an accomplished actress who has performed numerous times on Broadway and other stages in dramas and musical comedy. She has also appeared on television and in films, including memorable roles as the lounge singer in “The Towering Inferno” and the singing nun in “Airplane” and its sequel. Her acting chops came in handy when McGovern created her one-woman show “Carry It On,” an on-stage memoir she has performed several times. There will be elements of that at The Sheldon.
“‘The Long and Winding Road’ just takes the music and some of the things that we miss from our youth, and how times have changed,” she said. “Whereas the other is literally a storyline of my life.”
Engaging with listeners is key to her performances
McGovern enjoys interacting with the audience.
“When I first started out, … I was profoundly shy and would go immediately from one song into the next, hoping never to have to say anything. But now you can’t shut me up,” she said, chuckling, “so yes, I do talk.”
Regardless of the music’s time of origin, it reaches across the generations.
“People seem to respond,” she said.
McGovern helps frame the songs for those who may not be familiar with them.
“I kind of put them into context as to what the inspiration for the song was, or what was happening during that time,” she said. “And I’ve approached the songs in a new way. I’m not just doing a copy of how they were originally done.
"I obviously try to make them my own, but also (find) what’s relevant, what’s fresh about this. … So that was the challenge, but also the fun part of putting this together. People will say to me, ‘I’ve heard that song a million times – I never knew what it was about (before).’”
McGovern believes in power of music therapy
Music can speak to people in many ways, which is why McGovern is a strong advocate of music therapy.
“Music has an innate power to it that reaches inside and grabs you in a very profound and deep way, more than any conversation could do,” she said. “And it sort of stays there. I’ve worked with music therapists and patients, and it’s amazing – music therapy is not necessarily a cure for cancer, but it certainly aids in the healing process.
"It also aids in education, it aids in physiotherapy. People, after strokes, learn to walk sooner if they integrate music into the actual physiotherapy of it. There are a million applications as far as how music is helpful and is complementary in the healing process.”
Clearly, McGovern understands the power of music, and what her singing can do.
“Music to me is a heightened conversation,” she said. “It prints upon your mind and soul, just in a deeper way than a normal conversation would.”
Forty years on, her voice still rings
After 40 years, McGovern’s musical conversations are still highlighted by her rich, sonorous voice. A fact her fans heartily acknowledge after shows.
“I’m signing CDs at the end, and people come back and they go, ‘Yeah, you still got it.’”
Hearing this never gets old, and McGovern works to make sure she continues to hear it.
“If you treat your voice well, it treats you well back,” she said. “You have to approach your life as if you’re an athlete in training.”
So McGovern makes sure to exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep and do regular vocal warm-ups before concerts and even when she isn’t performing.
“I feel it’s a gift I’ve been blessed with, and you have to treat it with respect,” she said.
Besides, when people call you “The Stradivarius Voice,” that comes with high expectations. Speaking of which, what does she think of that nickname?
“It beats the ‘Disaster Theme Queen,’” she said, laughing.
McGovern is at a point where she can pick and choose when and where she performs, allowing for plenty of relaxation time back home in central Ohio with her dogs Rocky, a 16-year-old Yorkshire terrier, and Hannah, a 12-year-old Yorkie/silky cairn terrier mix. But even though travel can be a challenge, she has no plans to slow down.
“Most people talk about ‘when they retire,’ and that’s always been a foreign word to me,” she said. “I hope to sing till I drop. As long as people want to hear what I have to sing and say, then I’m glad to do it.”
Maureen McGovern will sing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108. Tickets are $40 orchestra, $35 balcony and are available at www.metrotix.com or by calling 314-534-1111.