Cathryn Antoinette ‘Toni’ Tennille was born in Montgomery, Alabama where she and her three sisters grew up surrounded by the big band music their parents loved. From an early age Toni studied classical piano and went on to attend Auburn University, taking to the stage with her rich contralto voice as the sole female singer with the school's highly lauded big band, the Auburn Knights. After leaving college to join the rest of her family in southern California, Toni began acting with the South Coast Repertory Theater, where she met a fellow student who asked her to write music for an ecological-themed musical he had created called Mother Earth.
During this period Toni met a brilliant young musician named Daryl Dragon who was touring with the Beach Boys as a keyboard player. When Daryl recommended her to the band to play acoustic piano, Toni found herself flying all over the United States to perform as the one and only “Beach Girl.” She also found herself falling in love with the quiet, enigmatic Daryl, and the two began a romantic relationship.
When not touring with the Beach Boys, Toni and Daryl began performing together as a duo in small clubs and venues around southern California. First calling themselves ‘The Dragons,’ they wisely chose the more exuberant moniker ‘Captain and Tennille’ and began to develop a fan base of loyal followers on the club circuit. During this time Toni penned her first love song to Daryl, ‘The Way I Want to Touch You,’ and the two scraped together enough cash to have a few hundred records pressed and distributed to radio stations. When the song quickly became a listener favorite, record labels took notice and Captain and Tennille were soon on their way to becoming one of the most-loved musical duos of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
After signing with A & M Records, Captain and Tennille put out a record that included the Neil Sedaka-penned song ‘Love Will Keep Us Together.’ The song shot straight to #1 on the charts and won the Grammy for record of the year in 1976. Hoping to cash in on the duos rising popularity as the ‘square’ Sonny and Cher, ABC approached with the offer for a television variety show. The Captain and Tennille Show became a network hit and featured guest stars such as John Travolta, Don Knotts, The Pointer Sisters, and Red Foxx. Toni loved doing the show, but Daryl, who never enjoyed being on camera, did not. As a result, Captain and Tennille declined ABC’s offer to do a second season.
Nine more albums and fourteen chart hits came in the next decade as Captain and Tennille kept up a busy schedule of touring, performing from Las Vegas to Japan. Toni hosted the syndicated Toni Tennille Show in the ‘80s and the duo starred in three Captain and Tennille network specials. Toni guest starred in some of the top television shows of the time such as The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She also lent her powerful voice to songs by Elton John and Pink Floyd’s epic rock albumThe Wall.
In the mid-‘80s, Toni began to rediscover her big band and classic jazz roots. She sang with symphonies and big bands across the country, layering her pop sensibilities with the soaring vocals of that nostalgic music style. Toni put out a series of albums celebrating the American standards with songs composed by such greats as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Johnny Mercer. In 1998, Toni signed on to play the lead in the musical Victor/Victoria and toured with the production for close to a year.
In 2007, Toni and Daryl moved from their home in Reno, Nevada to the high mountain desert community of Prescott in Northern Arizona. While Toni continued to occasionally sing for special events and benefit galas close to home, she enjoyed spending most of her time working with her beloved Australian Shepherd dogs and competing at national dog shows and trials. Realizing the healing power that these gentle, affectionate dogs have on people, Toni and her dog Smoky became a registered therapy dog team and make weekly visits to patients at local hospitals.
After thirty-nine years together, Toni and Daryl separated in 2013 and finalized their divorce in July of 2014. Suddenly single, Toni has found peace in her new life surrounded by family, her dogs and cats, and the music she still loves to play on her grand piano.