Born in Livingston, Texas, Mayes began her career as a rock and jazz singer in Houston. She attended the University of Houston. She made her Broadway debut in April 1989 as Winona Shook in Cy Coleman's Welcome to the Club.
For her performance she won a Theatre World Award. This was followed by her appearance in the original Off-Broadway production of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire's Closer Than Ever at the Cherry Lane Theatre. A critical success, the show ran for 312 performances and a CD recording was made on the RCA Victor label.
Mayes next appeared as Ilona Ritter in a revival of Jerry Bock's She Loves Me at the Roundabout Theatre in 1993. The production moved to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway the following year, and Mayes garnered Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for her performance. After She Loves Me closed in June, Mayes appeared as Brunnhilde in Jim Luigs's Das Barbecu at the Minetta Lane Theatre the following Fall. In 1995 she appeared as Mrs. MacAfee in the television movie version of Bye Bye Birdie with Jason Alexander, Vanessa L. Williams, Marc Kudisch, and Chynna Phillips. The following year she played a small role in Harold Becker's film City Hall.
In 2000 Mayes appeared Off-Broadway as Keely in James Hindman's critically acclaimed musical Pete 'n' Keely. For her performance she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. That same year she appeared in a small role in the film Double Parked. In 2001 she returned to the Queens Theatre in the Park to appear in the play Decade and she appeared in the musical review The Broadway Musicals of 1943 at Town Hall.
She toured the United States in a production of Claudia Shear's and James Lapine's Dirty Blonde and appeared on Sex and the City in the episode Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. In 2002 she guest starred on Law & Order: Criminal Intent as Brenda in the episode Crazy. In 2003 she returned to Broadway as Aunt Corene in the musical Urban Cowboy, earning a third Drama Desk Award nomination. In 2005 she appeared in the ensemble of the film The Producers.
When Mayes isn't working as an actress, she maintains a busy schedule as a concert and cabaret singer in New York City. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote in a 2001 review, "There is hardly a cabaret performer in New York who couldn't learn something from Sally Mayes. The plucky platinum-haired singer and actress embodies a hard-shelled professionalism that is too often missing from the nightclub stage. Alternately sparkly and brassy, and exuding a determined can-do energy, Ms. Mayes often suggests a contemporary cabaret descendant of Ginger Rogers."
She is married to Bob Renino and has one son, Ben Robert.
- Nemy, Enid (December 15, 1989). "On Stage". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
- Sally Mayes, Brent Spiner, Robert Wuhl Set for University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance Tribute Event by David Gordon. TheaterMania Theater News, 6 Aug 2012; retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Rich, Frank (April 14, 1989). "Review/Theater; 'Welcome to the Club,' A Musical About Divorce". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
- Holden, Stephen (February 25, 1990). "RECORDINGS; 'Closer Than Ever' Is One From the Heart". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
- Biography of Sally Mayes, filmreference.com; accessed February 25, 2017.
- Sally Mayes at the Internet Movie Database
- Holden, Stephen (November 14, 2001). "CABARET REVIEW; Channeling Ginger Rogers in a Seriocomic Dating History". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2009.