It’s been 73 year since The Moonmaids first took the stage with famed baritone singer Vaughn Monroe in Washington D.C. Today, one of the founding members, Hilda “Tinker” Rautenberg, continues to sing and enjoy her fellow residents at Mustang Creek Estates of Keller.
The North Texas native got her start on the stage at North Texas State Teachers College (now The University of North Texas), where she met fellow members of the original quartet back in 1943. At that time, they were known as the North Texas Swingtet. Their big break came in Dallas when they tied for first place at a talent competition at the Majestic Theatre, sponsored by the Interstate Theaters of Dallas. This got the attention of tour organizers, and in September of 1944 they set off for Jacksonville, Fla. The teens toured hospitals across the country, singing for many veterans returning from World War II.
“While we girls were individually shy, we were collectively confident. We always dreamed of being in a group with a big band,” said Rautenberg. “It was amazing to see so many parts of the country at such a young age. We even got the chance to tour in Texas and my mother came to a show.”
The group made sure to attend every show with a big band. One night they went to hear Stan Kenton, a famous jazz-musician, and got the courage to ask him to listen to them sing. A writer for Band Leaders magazine was there as well, and after hearing them asked for their picture and demo reel. He passed names along to Vaughn Monroe was looking for a vocal group for his big band. Soon, the Texas beauties were flown to New York City for a whirlwind week in 1946. It was Monroe who renamed the girls The Moonmaids.
“We were ready to go – hats, gloves, and dresses – the whole nine yards. In one week, we learned 22 different arrangements, got fitted for suits to match the band and had a photoshoot for the promotional materials. We had no idea our boss was so popular,” said Rautenberg. “We also meet Vaughn and his family for the first time. To this day, I email with his daughter Candace.”
Touring with Monroe, The Moonmaids were constantly on the move. They performed across the country and frequently at The Meadows, Monroe’s dinner club in Massachusetts. They were also on the radio. The Camel Caravan, a radio show sponsored by Camel Cigarettes, would air each Saturday night featuring Vaughn Monroe and The Moonmaids. The first year with the band, the women were also included in the movie Carnegie Hall. Rautenberg and her fellow Moonmaids were so busy that their first Christmas after joining the big band was spent away from home.
“We were very busy. Typically, we didn’t even have time to see the cities we visited, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I loved the opportunity to be independent and make my own money,” said the 91-year-old Rautenberg. “We had no time, but it taught us all a new level of maturity at a young age.”
By 1950, Rautenberg says the constant touring was growing tiresome, and it was time to return to Texas. She went back to school and soon fell in love. The famed singer met her husband Bill on a blind date. While telling his parents about the new woman in his life, a commercial featuring The Moonmaids came on TV, impressing his mother. Rautenberg says after meeting his amazing mom, she was sold too. The pair got married in 1951, and she continued to sing jingles for local companies and radio stations in Dallas and in cities across the country. Her husband would often jokingly remark that he couldn’t get away from her.
Today, Rautenberg is still in touch with two of her fellow Moonmaids who are also in their 90s, Mary Jo Grogan and June Bratone. She’s also blessed with a daughter who recently visited Texas from Washington state. Living at Mustang Creek Estates of Keller, Rautenberg is still drawing a crowd. It’s not uncommon to see her surrounded by fellow residents singing big band tunes.
“Tinker radiates happiness everywhere she goes. It’s a joy to hear her sweet songs fill up our neighborhood,” said Candy Jiwa, executive director at Mustang Creek Estates of Keller. “We love how residents like Tinker bring our community together.”
Mustang Creek Estates – whose mission is to provide seniors with high-quality residential-style assisted living and memory care at an affordable price – has additional locations in Allen, Burleson, Frisco and Sachse.