When Cathy Favaro-Maimone joined Signature Records in 1946 as a stenographer, she had no inkling she would become a trailblazer. A 17-year-old music lover — so young she had to acquire working papers — Favaro (Maimone is her married name) was simply delighted to be part of the machinery. “The only girls in the music business then were secretaries,” recalls the now 88-year-old.
Yet in an era when there were virtually no female music executives — Miriam Abramson (later Bienstock) co-founded Atlantic Records in 1947, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that a handful of pioneering women such as Vivian Carter at Vee-Jay Records in Chicago would start their own labels — Favaro-Maimone would persevere to become adept at virtually every facet of the business, as well as a key part of one of pop music’s most successful production teams.
Her musical knowledge caught the attention of producer and Signature head Bob Thiele, who made her liaison with the label’s Connecticut manufacturing plant. “He used to call me ‘Ace.’ Mastering, pressing, stampers, mothers — I learned everything from him,” she remembers, “and I became the secretary that got into everything else.” While Favaro-Maimone doesn’t recall much in the way of overt harassment — “some guy wanted to kiss me because he said I had eyebrows like Donna Reed” — it was frustrating to be an ambitious woman. “It was all guys, and doors did not open,” she says. “A woman? It took three times longer.”
When Signature folded in 1950, Favaro-Maimone moved briefly to polka label Dana before successive stints as a publicist for Capitol Records and the Ray Anthony Orchestra. While at Capitol, she tried and failed to get the label interested in singer Eydie Gorme, but Thiele signed her to Coral Records and Gorme later charted nine songs on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Blame It on the Bossa Nova,” which hit No. 7 in 1963.
In 1954, Favaro-Maimone was hired to be A&R coordinator for another music operation in the same building at 1733 Broadway in Manhattan, the producers Hugo & Luigi. “They used to call the job ‘A&R girl,’” she says. “They were the most exciting guys to work with and starting to have hits. I stayed 10 years.” During that period, the producers scored with a wide array of artists, including Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers and Sarah Vaughan, and as co-authors of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Favaro-Maimone also got a broad taste of the booming record business through the team’s deals with RCA, Mercury and Roulette Records.
She struck pop pay dirt for the producers when she discovered 15-year-old singer Margaret Battavio in a pile of unsolicited demos. With a name change to Little Peggy March, her 1963 debut, “I Will Follow Him,” spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, one of three top 40 hits she would land. And Favaro-Maimone proved “key” to the sound of one of Cooke’s biggest hits when the producers heard her tapping her key ring on a glass ashtray in the control booth during the session for “Chain Gang.” They added the effect to the final record to simulate a work crew.
After marrying Capitol promotion executive Joe Maimone in 1964, Favaro-Maimone left Hugo & Luigi to raise two sons, Chris and Joe Jr.; the latter is East Coast director of sales for Billboard. She returned to the business in 1969 as album coordinator for Crewe Records.
By the 1970s, the business was much larger than the one she had entered, though opportunities for women hadn’t changed much.
“None of them were producers,” she says, “but it was a little better because girls were getting jobs.”