“A group of seventh graders came to see the show recently,” McGovern said in her dressing room before the show. “Afterward, they spoke to the cast and the teacher told me how one of the little girls had just lost her brother and had been inconsolable. She said, ‘As Marmie sang, I saw the very moment that it got through to her that you don’t stop your life because you’ve lost someone, you go on to honor that life.’ They can’t pay you enough money for something as wonderful as that.”
Dressed in a purple robe, her red hair bound in a small, round cap, the 55-year-old singer looked almost beatific as she talked about her belief in the healing powers of music.
“As a child, music was a solace to me, a touchstone,” she said. “It filled me up, it was always such a strong part of my life. The sound of the human voice is probably the most powerful instrument of all. A deep, haunting melody and a great, life-affirming lyric will not cure cancer but it does help the body to help itself in a natural way.”
McGovern’s belief in music therapy and her youngest niece’s struggle with Muscular Dystrophy prompted the singer to set up the Works of Heart foundation for Music and Healing.
“I set out to record a whole library of life-affirming, positive music for patients and carers,” she said. “There’s a lot of music out there, but I wanted to produce some really quality stuff.”
So far, McGovern has produced one CD with the foundation, entitled “Works of Heart.”
Born 1949 in Youngstown, Ohio, with ancestry in Galway, McGovern has been singing since before she knew how to speak. Despite being her shyness as a youngster, McGovern’s sister Pat Sweeney says she was always a natural performer.
“Maureen and her friend Sue used to sing together in high school,” Sweeney said. “I always remember them sitting on our porch, singing and playing the guitar, and people would come from all over the neighborhood to listen to them.”
From age 9, McGovern was determined to make a career out of singing and never missed an opportunity to perform. Throughout high school, she sang in a folk group and performed at weddings. As a young woman, she toured hotel lounges across the Midwest, sending demo tapes to record producers as she traveled. In 1972, McGovern recorded her debut song, “The Morning After,” from the film “The Poseidon Adventure.” The album won an Oscar and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. In 1975, she became the first singer in history to release two Oscar-nominated songs in the same year, “We May Never Love Like This Again,” and “Wherever Love Takes Me,” from the film “Gold.”
Despite her success, however, McGovern struggled initially with life as a performer.
“The first 10 years of my career were very difficult,” she said. “For the first six years I didn’t have a home. I lived out of seven suitcases. ‘The Morning After’ happened so fast and there are so many things I look back at and say if I knew then what I knew now, but I was young. I came off the road in 1976 completely broke and I had to get a job in L.A. as a secretary from 1976 to 1979.”
McGovern made a spectacular comeback on Broadway in 1981 when she replaced Linda Ronstadt as Mabel in “Pirates of Penzance.” Since then she has performed in numerous Broadway shows and has recorded more than 20 studio albums. She has been nominated for two Grammy awards and has performed with stars from Sting to Placido Domingo to Ben Affleck. McGovern’s mentor, the late jazz legend Mel Torm