Martha Tilton (November 14, 1915, Corpus Christi, Texas - December 8, 2006, Brentwood, Los Angeles, California) was an American popular singer during America's swing era and traditional pop period. She is best known for her 1939 recording of "And the Angels Sing" with Benny Goodman. She was sometimes introduced as "The Liltin' Miss Tilton".
Tilton and her family lived in Texas and Kansas, relocating to Los Angeles when she was seven years old. While attending Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, she was singing on a small radio station when she was heard by an agent who signed her and began booking her with larger stations. She then dropped out of school in the 11th grade to join Hal Grayson's band.
After singing with the quartet Three Hits and a Miss, she joined the Myer Alexander chorus on Benny Goodman's radio show, Camel Caravan. Goodman hired Tilton as a vocalist with his band in August 1937. She was with Goodman in January 1938, when the band performed the first jazz performance at Carnegie Hall. She continued to appear as Goodman's star vocalist through the end of 1939.
Tilton had a major success from 1942 to 1949 as one of the first artists to record for Capitol Records. Her first recording for Capitol was "Moon Dreams", Capitol 138, with Orchestra and The Mellowaires, composed by Johnny Mercer and Glenn Miller pianist Chummy MacGregor in 1942. "Moon Dreams" would be recorded by Glenn Miller in 1944 and by Miles Davis in 1950. Among her biggest hits as a solo artist were "I'll Walk Alone," a wartime ballad which rose to #4 on the charts in 1944; "I Should Care" and "A Stranger in Town," which both peaked at #10 in 1945; and three in 1947: "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" from Finian's Rainbow, which climbed to #8; "That's My Desire", which hit #10; and "I Wonder, I Wonder, I Wonder", which reached #9.
After she left Capitol, Tilton recorded for other labels, including Coral and Tops. Among her later albums was We Sing the Old Songs (1957, Tops), a mix of older songs and recent standards with baritone Curt Massey, who later became well known as the composer (with Paul Henning) and singer of the theme song for the CBS-TV series Petticoat Junction.
Reviewing the two-CD set, The Liltin' Miss Tilton, (Capitol, 2000), critic Don Heckman wrote:
- There are those who would say that Martha Tilton wasn't a jazz singer at all. But swing-era fans won't have any doubts, remembering her for a rocking version of "Loch Lomond" at Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.
Massey and Tilton starred in Alka-Seltzer Time, a 15-minute radio series broadcast weekdays on both CBS and Mutual. Sponsored by Alka-Seltzer, this show began in 1949 as Curt Massey Time (sometimes advertised as Curt Massey Time with Martha Tilton) with a title change to highlight the sponsor's product by 1952.
By 1953, the series was heard simultaneously on Mutual (at noon) and later that same day on CBS (at 5:45pm). Ads described the show as "informal song sessions" by vocalists Massey and Tilton, who was often billed as "The liltin' Martha Tilton." The two Texas-born singers performed with Country Washburne and His Orchestra, featuring Charles LaVere on piano. The series ended November 6, 1953.
However, Massey and Tilton continued to appear together during the late 1950s on such shows as Guest Star and Stars for Defense. They also teamed to record an album, We Sing the Old Songs (1957). Tilton and Massey also co-hosted a daily half-hour TV show in Los Angeles for approximately seven years.
Her movies include Sunny (1941), Strictly in the Groove (1942), Swing Hostess (1944), Crime, Inc. (1945), and The Benny Goodman Story (1956). Her last film appearance was as the band vocalist in the TV movie Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975). Tilton's singing voice was used for other actresses including Barbara Stanwyck (Ball of Fire), Martha O'Driscoll, and Anne Gwynne. She also appeared in several Soundies musical films of the 1940s.
Her sister, Liz Tilton, also seen in Soundies, sang with Ken Baker (mid-1930s), Buddy Rogers, Bob Crosby (1941), and Jan Garber (1942).