There has never been a recording artist quite like Marcy Tigner.
Equal parts gospel singer, children's entertainer, amateur
ventriloquist, and cottage industry, during the 1960s and 1970s
Tigner released some 40-odd LPs, books, toys, and souvenirs
showcasing the devoutly Christian messages she transmitted via
her impossibly high, childlike singing voice and her impossibly
freaky ventriloquist dummy Little Marcy. Though largely inactive
from the 1980s onward, she retained a large fan following,
although in latter years her core audience counted far fewer
Sunday school students than collectors of so-called "incredibly
strange music." Tigner was born and raised in Wichita, KS; the
product of a devoutly religious family, as a child she first
studied piano, but after hearing a trombonist playing gospel
music, she adopted the instrument for her own. As a teen Tigner
won a series of statewide and national trombone contests before
branching out into vocal lessons; however, her naturally high,
girlish voice initially proved a liability, and she eventually
returned to the trombone full-time. During the early '60s she
made her recorded debut on the prolific sacred music imprint
Whitney with the instrumental Some Golden Daybreak, backed by
noted organist and label head Lorin Whitney. For the Christian
Faith label she also recorded an LP titled simply Trombone.
After Tigner's husband, Everett, overheard a group of record company executives discussing plans to hire child singers to make a children's album, she and Whitney entered the studio to record her rendition of the standard "Jesus Loves Me" as a showcase for her own childlike voice. The demo landed Tigner a deal with Cornerstone Records, and in 1964 she released her first children's effort, Happy Day Express: Sing With Marcy. A series of albums and live performances followed, but Tigner felt uncomfortable appearing on-stage while singing in a child's voice. While appearing in the film Teenage Diary, she befriended co-star (and Miss America 1965) Vonda Van Dyke, herself an accomplished ventriloquist; at Van Dyke's urging, Tigner purchased a copy of Paul Winchell's book Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit and began learning the trade. The same doll maker who designed Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy character was soon commissioned to create Little Marcy, who became the on-stage conduit for Tigner's vocal performances. The dummy eventually became so popular that Tigner's recordings were credited to simply Little Marcy, and dolls, books, videos, and other toys were later mass-produced.
The scope of Tigner's discography is staggering -- for labels like Word, Singcord, and Zondervan she sometimes recorded as many as five new LPs per year. Their titles are mostly interchangeable -- 1973 alone saw the release of Walking in the Sunshine With Little Marcy, The Jesus Story: A Children's Musical, Happy Am I, and Sing and Be Happy With Little Marcy -- and each title was endlessly repackaged. Perhaps most notable was 1969's Little Marcy Visits Smokey Bear, a project to promote fire safety. 1982's Little Marcy and Mother Goose Go to Church was Tigner's last new recording -- she and husband Everett soon retired to Eugene, OR, although she continued making annual appearances at a Christian bookstore in nearby Salem. As her albums began making their way to second-hand stores, Tigner was embraced by a new audience of record geeks -- in 1994, her "Join the Gospel Express" was included on the second volume of the Incredibly Strange Music compilation series. A number of websites now feature MP3 files of her songs as well -- no aficionado of obscure music has truly lived without at least hearing Little Marcy's "I Love Little Pussy," her syrupy-sweet ode to her cat.
Little Marcy Tigner. Answers.com.
Popular Artist Biographies, All Media Guide, 2008.
November 13, 2008.
Little Marcy links
The nearly complete Little Marcy discography
Little Marcy @ Musical Fruitcake
Little Marcy @ Hypwax.com
Little Marcy @ 365 Days Project (WFMU)
Little Marcy fan page @ MySpace
Little Marcy @ YouTube