At 91, Denton-raised Big Band Vocalist Is Low Key About the High Life of Her Youth

At 91, Hilda "Tinker" Rautenberg doesn't make a big production of her storied past. Still, she might occasionally break into song, reminded of a ditty or two she sang as a member of the Moonmaids, who did vocals for popular big band leader Vaughn Monroe in the late 1940s.Born Hilda Cunningham, Rautenberg had just started at North Texas State Teachers College — now the University of North Texas — when she and three fellow students formed a collegiate quartet. Several lucky breaks put them in the spotlight and then on Monroe's national circuit, where they met stars like Frank Sinatra, Patti Page and Rosemary Clooney and appeared in the 1947 film Carnegie Hall.Only rarely now does Rautenberg bring out her tattered, overflowing scrapbooks of news clippings and black-and-white photos of big-band concerts, fancy banquets, beach frolics and life on the road."I really don't tell people," she said recently at Mustang Creek Estates in Keller, the senior community where she now lives.The keepsakes sometimes surprise the staff and residents."When I found out who she was, I was, like, 'Oh my God,'" said La'Fonda "KK" Mathis, an activity director at the community. "We didn't know who we were taking care of."Those years were a dream-come-true for a girl from Denton who'd sung since third grade, earning the nickname "Tinker" as a toddler for her habit of getting into things. She and schoolmates Mary Jo Thomas, Arline Truax and Katie Myatt loved big bands and their vocal groups, catching shows when they came to town and practicing their own arrangements. By 1943, the four had formed the North Texas Swingtet.A talent show victory the next year put them onstage at Dallas' Majestic Theater — and helped land them a national United Service Organizations tour gig performing in hospital wards."It was our first inkling that maybe we'd like to do this as a career," Rautenberg said.  Continue reading...

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