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Madison 'Superstar' singer beats out 1,700 in nationwide contest
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Madison 'Superstar' singer beats out 1,700 in nationwide contest

Harmonious Wail

With her musical engagements canceled because of the pandemic, Harmonious Wail's Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, right, entered an AARP singing contest and won. Harmonious Wail also features Maggie's husband, Sims Delaney-Potthoff, left, and Jeffo Weiss on bass.

Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, singer for the longstanding Madison band Harmonious Wail, beat out about 1,700 contestants in a national singing contest.

The AARP announced Friday that Delaney-Potthoff, 66, won its AARP Superstar Singing Contest for 2020. She became a finalist last month after making it through the first round of the a cappella contest with the Louis Armstrong classic, “What a Wonderful World.”

In August, for the finals, she submitted a video of herself singing “My Favorite Things,” from “The Sound of Music,” adding some scat singing at the beginning.

“There were many strong singers out there,” Delaney-Potthoff said. “I feel very honored, and I want all the musicians in the area to know I won it for all of us.”

Maggie and her husband, Sims Delaney-Potthoff, started the local Gypsy-jazz band Harmonious Wail in 1987. Since their gigs dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio has been performing Friday nights since March 27 and posting their “Quarantini Concerts” online. After the first concert, they moved the shows outside and dubbed them “Concerts Under the Oak.”

People can listen at:

“We’re going to be celebrating tonight and I’ll be receiving the award in my own way,” Maggie said Friday. “If we were not in COVID times, the finalists in this AARP contest would have been singing their songs in front of a big audience, in a big auditorium with a big full band behind them.”

And then, after announcing the winner, an official from the advocacy organization for older adults would have handed her “a big fake sweepstakes check, one of those big cardboard checks, and it would have been a very, very exciting event,” Maggie said. “We have no events, and that’s the sign of our times. It’s all an online celebration, so we’ll make it as special a celebratory event as we can tonight.”

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Maggie said “My Favorite Things” popped into her head and she went with it.

“I double-checked my gut and that was it,” she said. “And it’s true that when I am performing that song, I do hope that I’m extending a joyful energy that helps people who are sitting out there, maybe not having the best time in life right now, for whatever reason, and it picks up their spirits a little bit.”

The power of music was reinforced when the couple’s son, Henry, died in an accident five years ago and their world fell apart. Henry was also a musician, and the couple started the Henry Mac Fund. Proceeds from their annual Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival, which wrapped up last weekend, go into the fund with the couple presenting the award money to a young up-and-coming musician at the Madison Area Music Awards.

As for Maggie’s $5,000 AARP prize money, she said it will go toward replacing their 18-year-old car. “We’re seniors and we need a little bit more updated vehicle,” she said.

For 19 years, Maggie’s taught singing for UW-Madison Continuing Studies, including the non-credit class “Singing for Screamers.” She said it was designed for rock n’ roll singers and Broadway-belting singers, to teach proper breathing techniques and exercises so students can “go ahead and blast away, but keep your voice safe.”

She said UW recently eliminated its Continuing Studies music classes.

“That’s so very sad,” Maggie said. “Everybody needs music and arts right now, more than any time. And that’s the last thing we should be eliminating, in my opinion.”

Photos: Look back at Concerts on the Square over the years

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