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Jul 22

Tambi Garret: The South Florida Years

For every superstar, and even every one-hit wonder, there are countless performers standing on the outside, hoping their next performance – their next recording – will be their breakout. They give it their all, hanging on to their dreams year after year, even when it seems those dreams might never come true.

Tambi Garret was one of those who knocked on the door, hoping for something bigger, something better. This young lady who overcame so many obstacles couldn’t overcome the behemoth that makes or breaks so many careers: the music industry.

Tambi Garrett, appearing at a Palm Beach County supper club. From the Palm Beach Post, August 19, 1962

Tambi Garret, appearing at a Palm Beach County supper club. From the Palm Beach Post, August 19, 1962

Our story starts with a teenage girl named Norma Jean Garrison, who headed south for Palm Beach County in the early ‘60s. As Tambi Garret, she was booked into area supper clubs, where she played the role of the “girl singer” who’d come out after the comedian and the band. Tambi excelled, though, and soon caught the attention of Fletcher Smith, a studio owner with a long, colorful history. Smith was a legend in the movie industry, designing miniature sets for many of the major studios. The battle scenes in Mutiny On The Bounty? Those were his. “He would have them built to exact replica, these sloops and frigates and whatever the hell they were,” recalled comedian Woody Woodberry, Smith’s protégé and friend, in an interview with the blog Classic Television Showbiz. “He had these explosive devices that would blow them up, and he had little puffs of smoke coming out of cannons.”

When Smith retired from films, he left New York City and opened a recording studio in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tambi Garret recorded at least five songs at the studio, on December 5, 1963. Two of the tracks, “Baby Doll” and “Chain of Emotion”, were released as a single on Smith’s StereOddities label. I’m not sure if the other three tracks, “Angel Face”, “Hold My Hand”, and “Thoughtless”, ever saw the light of day. All five songs were either written or co-written by Garret.

Recorded in Fort Lauderdale in December 1963.  FSS stood for Fletcher Smith Studios.

Recorded in Fort Lauderdale in December 1963. F.S.S. stood for Fletcher Smith Studios.

The record didn’t take off, but it appeared Garret’s career just might. A New York talent agent heard her sing at a club in Boca Raton, and decided to bring her to Manhattan. All was going well, until her management booked a date for her in Massachusetts. The folks there didn’t know that Tambi was stricken with polio as a child, in the years before Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine. According to a newspaper report, the folks there got cold feet, and cancelled her appearance. Instead, she was booked into a club called The Living Room, where she played to rave reviews… and soon was signed to a contract with Ascot Records, the United Artists-distributed label best known for its hit records by Manfred Mann.

Tambi makes it on to a nationally-distributed label.

Tambi makes it on to a nationally-distributed label.

Tambi’s first single for the label, “If I Give My Heart To You” b/w “You Were Mine For Awhile” was produced by pop singer/A&R guy Gerry Granahan. Both sides sound a lot like Brenda Lee, and to be honest, the sound was a little dated for 1965. It was on the follow-up single, “Leave A Little Love”, that Tambi really showed what she could do. This is the track that has received some Northern Soul action through the years (as has a version of the song by Patti Austin), and it’s my opinion that this was far and away her best recording. Unfortunately, it failed to dent the charts, and by mid-1966, little was heard of Tambi Garret.

Tambi Garrett's best record.   This song was also recorded by Patti Austin and Lulu.

Tambi Garrett’s best record. This song was also recorded by Patti Austin and Lulu.

I’d love to tell you where she went from there, but information from that point on is very scarce. I’m not aware of any records after 1966, and have not been able to find out where life ultimately led the pretty redhead and polio survivor. It is my hope that somebody who sees this will be able to fill in the rest of the Tambi Garret story. There has to be more.

    TAMBI GARRET DISCOGRAPHY

Spotlight 395      Yes I Do/From The Wrong Side Of Town (as Norma Jean Garrison)
StereOddities, Inc. 2001   Baby Doll/Chain of Emotion (63)
Ascot 2182         If I Give My Heart To You/You Were Mine For Awhile (65)
Ascot 2208         Leave A Little Love/How Could You Let Her? (66)

Now that you’re here, please check out the OTHER POSTS on the Savage Lost blog.

7 comments

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  1. Gloria Rothenberg

    In the 60’s my husband, Gerald Rothenberg, owned a nightclub in NYC called Sniffen Court Inn (corner of 36th St. and 3rd Ave.,) The agent who brought her to Manhattan booked her into our club. She had come up from Fl. with her father as chaperone. My husband recognized her talent, and kept her beyond her 2 week gig. When her father had to return to Fl., Tambi came to live with us in Brooklyn. We sort of “managed” her career for awhile, but my husband was busy with his restaurants and club, and I was raising 3 children, so we couldn’t go out of town with her. The furthest we went was to the Concord in the Catskills. She ultimately married a musician who played in one of the bands she sang with. The last we heard of her, she had had a baby, and returned to live in Florida.
    I, too, have often wondered what happend after she left us. We had no address for her, and lost all contact. If you have heard any more since your article was written, I’d like to hear it. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Gloria. I’m hoping someone will see this entry, and let us know what happened to Tambi.

  2. kimberly goodwin

    This is kimberly goodwin I am her only daughter 1970, I was adopted at 6 years old. she was norma jean wickham when i was adopted. 1977 Norma Jean Lumpkin when she died. Isabellafaithisa@gmail.com please contact me if anyone has any information on this import information.

  3. Jeffers66 Savage Lost

    Kimberly, I hope someone comes forward with a picture of your Mom. I’d love to see one, too.

  4. kimberly jean goodwin

    I was born in Boynton beach florida. My name was Kimberly jean Wickham. Born to Norma jean an Pete Wickham. They separated shortly. My mother had polio an wore a brace on one leg. Norma jean gave me up for adoption at the age of six.I was born in 1970. I did know my mother was a performer/ singer before I was born. Wow I have three children who want to see a photo of their grandmother. Sadly she died in 1989.Her last name was Lumpkin when she passed. I received money an found out I was her only biological child… Someone please help our family w- a photo of Tambi… My address is 1354 Franklin st. Clearwater FL. 33756

  5. kimberly jean goodwin

    I am waiting on a photo of Tambi.

  6. kimberly goodwin

    My Mothers name was Norma Jean Lumpkin when she died. In Florida in 1989. Her husband William Lumpkin died about a year before her. If anyone could help us w- a DMV photo or anything it would help..

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