Big Band singer Martha Tilton dies

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Big Band singer "Liltin"' Martha Tilton, perhaps best-known for "And the Angels Sing" with Benny Goodman and the World War II ballad "I'll Walk Alone," has died. She was 91.

Tilton died of natural causes Friday at her Brentwood home, her granddaughter Maura Smith said.

Tilton joined the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra in 1935, but she didn't make her first recording until 1937 when she joined Goodman and remained with him until 1939 when she left in a shake-up after the departure of Harry James.

While with Goodman, she performed in a famous swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938.

Tilton worked with Artie Shaw briefly before joining the Billy Mills Orchestra on the "Fibber McGee and Molly" radio show in 1941. She also was the host of her own NBC radio show "Liltin' Martha Tilton Time."

She then became a solo artist. Besides "I'll Walk Alone" in 1944, her biggest hits were "I Should Care" and "A Stranger in Town" in 1945 and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" from "Finian's Rainbow," "That's My Desire" and "I Wonder, I Wonder, I Wonder" in 1947.

Tilton also appeared in several motion pictures, including "The Benny Goodman Story," playing herself opposite Steve Allen's Goodman, "Strictly in the Groove," "You'll Never Get Rich," "Irene," "Topper," "Crime, Inc." and "Swing Hostess."

"To me, she was so unique because she didn't reinterpret the song that the composers gave her; she sang it straight, without her own styling or imprint on it," Chuck Cecil, longtime host of the Los Angeles-area radio show "The Swingin' Years," told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

"So many of them become song stylists and they sort of reinterpret the song, but she sang it with clarity and with charm -- and very successfully," Cecil said. "I'd say one of the definitive records of the swing era was the song 'And the Angels Sing."'

Born Nov. 14, 1915, in Corpus Christi, Texas, Tilton lived in Texas and Kansas before her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 7. While attending Fairfax High School, she began singing on a small radio station where she was heard by a talent agent who got her jobs on larger stations.

Tilton's younger sister, Liz, who also became a Big Band singer, died in 2003.

Besides her granddaughter, Tilton is survived by husband Jim Brooks; daughter Cathy Smith; son Jon Vannerson; and four other grandchildren.

A private funeral was planned.
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