Marti Marciano, widow of baseball legend Willie Mays, died July 20 in her Fort Lauderdale home. She was 84.
She was a woman of many talents. She was a consultant to the stars who hosted, among others, Gladys Knight and the Pips right in her own home. She worked at ringside for Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. She entertained famous guests at her Queens, New York night club.
She was also a loving wife and mother.
Her son, Michael, describes her as a generous woman who many in the family called “sister,” regardless of how they were related, “because she was like the big sister of the clan.” According to Michael, “my mother was a great philanthropist who gave to everyone in the family. She took care of all the kids in our family at one time or another, and she doesn’t have a single friend who is not grateful to her for one thing or another. She gave everything she could.”
Also known as Marghuerite Mays, Marciano was born Scarlett Marghuerite Wendell in St. Louis, Missouri on Nov. 13, 1925 to parents Sadie and Frank Wendell.
In 1950, she married the late Bill Kinney, lead singer of renowned R&B/doo-wop group The Drifters. She was the personal manager of the group, and also worked with many other entertainers throughout her lifetime.
In 1956, she remarried, tying the knot with Mays, who is considered the greatest all-around baseball player of all time. The couple raised two children, Michael and Wilmia.
Michael described his early childhood in New York, where Willie Mays played with the New York Giants, as “surreal.” As a child, Michael traveled the country and the world with his family (often by car, as Marciano preferred not to go by plane).
He and his family would follow his father’s team to wherever they played. Marciano had a complexion light enough to check into hotels in the South during segregation, and would often hide Michael under a blanket to get him into these all-white establishments.
Marciano had an amazing career. She is credited with bringing singer Gladys Knight to New York to record for Buddha Records. She also housed Knight and the Pips in her own home, and her son recalls her styling the group and coaching them on how to interview and behave from their basement.
Her son said, “She built stars. Nowadays, we understand the need for a Matthew Knowles or a Joe Jackson, but back then nobody was doing it. She pioneered it.”
As one of the first in the business to serve as a consultant to the stars, she worked for star boxers Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. The entertainment pioneer later partnered with Ruth Bowen to develop the careers of iconic soul band the Isley Brothers.
Marciano owned the hip Queens nightclub The Dugout, which was popular with the “Amazing Mets,” New York’s 1969 world champion baseball team. She counted as guests famous athletes, entertainers and politicians.
In 1978, she relocated to San Antonio, where she worked as a buyer for high-end women’s boutiques. In 2003, she retired to Fort Lauderdale.
In addition to her son, Michael, she is survived by her grandsons, Raymond and Lee; her brother, Charles; her sister, Annabelle and her beloved dog, Stoli. She was pre-deceased by her daughter, Wilmia.
She was cremated, as was her wish. Services took place July 23 at Gregg L. Mason Funeral Home in Miami.
A memorial Mass took place at All Saints Catholic Church in Sunrise. Her family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations in her name be sent to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America or the American Cancer Society.
Photo: Marti Marciano