Martha Tilton

Photo of Martha Tilton

Popular vo­cal­ist Martha Tilton toured with sev­eral or­ches­tras in the mid-1930s, in­clud­ing Jimmy Dorseys band in 1935. Though she spent more than a year with the el­der Dorsey, she never en­tered the stu­dio. She even­tu­ally joined the vo­cal group Three Hits and a Miss, with whom she was singing on the ra­dio when Benny Goodman hired her in 1937 to re­place Betty Van.

Tilton made her first record­ings with the King of Swing. Goodman, in­tend­ing to give her a good build-up dur­ing her de­but, would in­tro­duce Tilton as a singer that’s re­ally go­ing places.” During one of her first ap­pear­ances, she for­got her cue, and when she did­n’t ap­pear Goodman turned to the au­di­ence and joked, Boy, she is­n’t go­ing places, she’s al­ready gone!”

Known as Liltin’ Miss Tilton,” she re­mained with Goodman un­til 1939, when she was asked” to leave dur­ing the shake-up that fol­lowed the de­par­ture of many key Goodman per­son­nel that year. After ex­it­ing Goodman, she set­tled into ra­dio work and briefly sang with Artie Shaws or­ches­tra. A pop­u­lar vo­cal­ist, she placed tenth in Billboards an­nual col­lege poll for best fe­male band vo­cal­ist in 1940 and fifth the fol­low­ing year.

Tilton ap­peared on ra­dio reg­u­larly dur­ing the early 1940s, both as a guest and on her own pro­grams. In 1941, she was hired as singer with the Billy Mills Orchestra on the Fibber McGee and Molly ra­dio pro­gram. She proved un­pop­u­lar with the au­di­ence and only re­mained with the pro­gram one sea­son.

In 1942, Tilton signed with the new Capitol la­bel, record­ing solo and pro­vid­ing vo­cals for or­ches­tras on the diskery, in­clud­ing those of Paul Whiteman and Gordon Jenkins. She re­mained with Capitol through­out the 1940s, ex­cept for a brief pe­riod in which she left for Majestic in 1947. In 1950, she signed with Coral.

Tilton ap­peared in sev­eral mu­si­cal shorts and Hollywood films dur­ing the early and mid-1940s. Her last sil­ver screen ap­pear­ance was in the 1956 biopic The Benny Goodman Story. In 1975, she starred in the made-for-TV movie Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. She con­tin­ued to sing and record solo through the 1950s, of­ten part­ner­ing with singer Curt Massey, with whom she had a pop­u­lar ra­dio pro­gram in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Tilton also owned, man­aged and ran The Silver Thimble lin­gerie shop in Carmel, California, opened in 1947.

Tilton walked down the aisle three times, the first time in 1937 to David Scott. In 1940, Tilton mar­ried Leonard Vannerson, Benny Goodman’s busi­ness man­ager, and in 1953 she mar­ried test pi­lot Jim Brooks, who ac­ci­den­tally dropped her and broke her leg when at­tempt­ing to carry her across the thresh­old of their home four days af­ter their wed­ding. The cou­ple re­mained to­gether for the rest of her life.

Martha Tilton passed away from nat­ural causes in December of 2006. Her sis­ter, Liz, was also a band vo­cal­ist. The two recorded to­gether as The Liltin’ Tiltons on Coral Records in 1952 and 1953.

Music

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  • I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
    Benny Goodman (Martha Tilton), Victor (1938)
  • And the Angels Sing
    Benny Goodman (Martha Tilton), Victor (1939)
  • Moondreams
    Martha Tilton, Capitol (1942)
  • You Make Me Feel So Young
    Martha Tilton, Capitol (1946)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Films

Select a video to play
  • Screenshot
    "A Little Jive Is Good for You"
    Martha Tilton
    Minoco (1941)
  • Screenshot
    "Loch Lomond"
    Martha Tilton w/Ben Pollack's Orchestra
    Minoco (1941)
  • Screenshot
    "Love Turns Winter Into Spring"
    Martha Tilton and Gene Grounds
    Soundies (1941)
  • Screenshot
    "What the Country Needs"
    Martha Tilton
    Soundies (1941)
  • Screenshot
    "Guilty"
    Martha Tilton
    from the film Crime, Inc., PRC (1945)

We embed media from YouTube and the Internet Archive. Items may disappear on those services without notice. If you run across something that's no longer available, please let us know so we can remove the embed.

Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Martha Tilton.” IMDb. Accessed 2 Jan. 2016.
  3. “Martha Tilton.” OTRRpedia. Accessed 2 Jan. 2016.
  4. “Radio Singer Weds.” The Milwaukee Sentinel 3 Apr. 1940: 5.
  5. “Capitol Puts Out First Disk Release.” Billboard 4 Jul. 1942: 25.
  6. “On the Records.” Billboard 1 Aug. 1942: 20.
  7. “Collegiate Choice of Vocalists.” The Billboard 1943 Music Year Book. New York: Billboard, 1943. 139.
  8. “Singer to Appear at Reading Fair.” Reading Times [Reading, PA] 30 Aug. 1946: 9.
  9. “Tilton, Garber Plus Masters Go to Capitol.” Billboard 7 Feb. 1948: 21.
  10. “Babbitt, La Tilton Inked for Coral.” Billboard 31 Dec. 1949: 12.
  11. “Singer Martha Tilton Runs Own Shop.” St. Petersburg Times 6 Aug. 1950: 11.
  12. “Singer Martha Tilton Gets Broken Leg as New Husband Trips.” The Southeast Missourian [Cape Girardeau, MO] 8 May 1953: 5.