Liz Tilton began her singing career on the West Coast while still in high school. Though never as popular as her older sister, Benny Goodman vocalist Martha, Tilton kept busy, working with many of the better West Coast swing bands over the next several years. Tilton sang with Gil Evans’s orchestra in late 1936. In June 1938, she was Kenny Baker, but by November she had joined Buddy Rogers. She stayed with Rogers until spring 1939 when his management agency forced him to give up his swing band in favor of forming a new sweet orchestra. She then re-joined Baker that summer but stayed only briefly. By late August she was with Ray Noble, where she remained until early 1940. She made a solo soundie, “Abercrombie Had a Zombie,” in 1941 with RCM. The song, described by Billboard as “zany,” also featured “eccentric dancer” Lee Murray.
Tilton joined Bob Crosby’s band in April 1941, replacing Bonnie King. She remained with Crosby until at least April 1942. After leaving Crosby, Tilton kept busy with radio appearances on CBS. She also dedicated time to the war effort, singing at USO shows and working at the Hollywood Canteen. In addition, she sang the title song in the patriotic Bugs Bunny short “Any Bonds Today?”
In summer 1942, Tilton toured with the Billy Mills orchestra. Tilton performed with fellow CBS star Gordon Jenkins and his orchestra in a November 1942 show in Long Beach, California. The show also featured Spike Jones. Tilton again returned to Long Beach for New Year’s Eve, singing with Muzzy Marcellino’s orchestra, with Jones again part of the show. Tilton also worked with Vido Musso’s orchestra at some point and with Ozzie Nelson’s band in early 1943.
Tilton joined Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra in April 1943, replacing Barbara Canvin. She stayed only two months, leaving in late June reportedly either to go solo or due to health reasons. By late July, she’d joined Jan Garber’s new swing band, where she proved popular with audiences and critics. Aside from a brief absence due to illness in early 1944, she remained with Garber until July of that year when she retired from show business to become a “full-time housewife.” She was back on the stage in January 1946, though, for a short stay with Gene Krupa’s orchestra, subbing for a departed Anita O’Day.
Tilton continued working into the 1950s, recording with both Clyde McCoy’s orchestra and Billy May in 1952. She and sister Martha sang duet on Coral Records as The Liltin’ Tiltons in 1952 and 1953. Liz Tilton passed away in 2003 at the age of 84.
The “zombie” in question was the name of a popular alcoholic drink. This was well before the word came to have its modern meaning. Zombies in the 1940s were not the brain-eating undead creatures as we know them today. That image became the norm after the 1960s, influenced by director Roger Corman’s Living Dead films. The term zombie in the 1940s meant someone who was still alive but under the control of another person by hypnotism or drugs. ↩︎