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.


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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)

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  • 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
    Martha Tilton
    from the film Crime, Inc., PRC (1945)

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  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.