Beautiful Evening Gowns Biography
When Martha was three years old, her family moved to Edna, Kansas for a short time; then, in 1922, they settled on Laurel Avenue in Los Angeles. Her father worked as a banker in Los Angeles. and he did well (considering this was during the Great Depression), he soon moved his family to a nice home at 507 Highland Avenue in Los Angeles. This is the home Martha's parents lived in for the remainder of their lives and which Martha only recently sold.
The Tiltons were a close-knit family; aunts and uncles and grandparents all lived within a few blocks of each other. Martha's mother played piano and her father had a beautiful singing voice, and the whole extended family loved to sing whenever they got together. Some of Martha's favorite singers at the time were Ruth Etting and Connee Boswell.
Martha also had a younger sister named Liz who was born in 1918, whom Martha claims was even prettier then she (although it's hard to believe). Liz was also a talented singer, singing with Jan Garber's orchestra in the mid-1940s and also Bob Crosby's band; her recordings are rare, so we have included a few on this site for your enjoyment (see "Audio" page). When Liz's husband returned from WWII, Liz left the music business. Liz passed away a few years ago, in 2003.
While Martha attended Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, she met up with a girl friend who had an older sister dating a fellow from U.S.C. college. These fellows had a small band that performed on a local radio station. She went on to sing at the Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove with Sid Lippman's Band.
From Sid Lippman, Martha moved on to the Hal Grayson Band, where she performed for close to three years. While with Grayson, she married a Canadian boy named Dave Thomas--she was 18 at the time. This marriage lasted only a short time, but long enough for Martha to become pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Gerald, in 1936. Later that year, Martha joined a group called "Three Hits and a Miss" (obviously, she was the Miss).
In 1937, Martha joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band and spent a few months with that organization. During that time Dorsey recorded many records, but none included Martha unfortunately.
Still in 1937, she appeared in her first movie, the Roland Young film "Topper," with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. She had an uncredited part as a lounge singer, fronting the group "Three Hits and a Miss."
Besides appearing in the movie "Topper," Martha also appeared in the films "Irene," "You'll Never Get Rich," "Sunny," "Strictly In The Groove," "Crime Inc.," "Swing Hostess" and "The Benny Goodman Story." Her last film, "The Queen of the Stardust Ballroom," was made in 1975. Most of these movies are available for purchase online.
While with "Three Hits and a Miss," Martha was the first girl singer to sing four-part harmony with a pop group. About this time, Benny Goodman was in Hollywood filming "Hollywood Hotel" and became aware of Martha, and she was asked to audition to replace Helen Ward. Goodman seemed to be going through a lot of girl singers at this time. Martha later commented that the band worked 365 days straight for two years, with no breaks. With that kind of a schedule, one can see why some singers and band members might leave looking for easier work hours.
At her audition, Teddy Wilson accompanied on piano. In a twist, Martha noticed Goodman get up and leave the room during her second song. She immediately assumed he didn't like what he heard, so she left too, heading for home feeling very downhearted and rejected. She told her mother what had happened and cried all night.
But the next morning there was a phone call that gave her the surprise of her life; the person on the other end of the line asked, "Why did you walk out?" She answered, "Who wouldn't? Goodman left and that's why I did." She was informed that she was mistaken about Mr. Goodman's assessment, that Benny liked her and wanted to talk with her. She was hired the next day at $125.00 per week and two days later was on the band bus heading east for Texas. Martha didn't return home for two years after that.
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