Toni Fisher, aka Miss Toni Fisher, was an American singer; little is known of her early life. Fisher is now best remembered as the original singer of “The Big Hurt” which is also considered the first record to feature a sound effect called “flanging” or “phasing,” the sound that could be likened to the one from a plane either landing or taking off. She was billed with “Miss” beside her name because of her powerful voice made to be heard over the phasing/flanging sound effects, to indicate to the listener that it is a woman who sings in the track. Fisher churned out a couple more hits: “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “West of the Wall.” After working with labels Bigtop, Columbia Records, Capitol Records, and Smash Records in the 1960s, she ultimately abandoned her music career. Fisher died in 1999 of a heart attack.
Early life and entertainment career
Toni Fisher was born in Los Angeles, California in 1929 (some sources say she was born in 1931, though her exact birth date is still obscure). Little is known about her background or her formative years. Many portions of her life are shrouded in mystery, as music historians still can’t determine if the singer got her last name “Fisher” from birth or from marriage. Some claim that Toni married a certain Bill Fisher. However, the Internet Movie Data Base or IMDb cites that she did un-credited film and TV bit roles along with her two sisters Theresa “Terri” Fisher and Gertrude “Trudi” Fisher. Those theories still remain unconfirmed.
In any case, Miss Toni Fisher (as she was always billed, and this will be explained later in this article) pursued an entertainment career and that was the certain thing about her. She occupied the local Los Angeles nightclub circuit where she became a vocalist for over five years.
Miss Toni Fisher also appeared in an un-credited bit part in the musical Make Believe Ballroom in 1949. The film also included other cameo roles by Nat King Cole, Jimmy Dorsey, Frankie Laine, Gene Krupa, and Kay Starr.
Marrying Wayne Shanklin, who would write Fisher’s biggest hit
Early in the 1950s Fisher married noted music performer, composer/songwriter, arranger and producer Wayne Shanklin (1916-1970) who also stood as her manager. Shanklin had held songwriting credits such as Jerry Wallace’s “Primrose Lane,” Frankie Laine’s “Jezebel” and “Chanson d’Amour” sung by Art and Dotty Todd.
In 1959, Shanklin established his own label Signet Records which was based in Los Angeles. He had written a song which he thought would be perfect for his wife to record. The new song was titled “The Big Hurt.”
“The Big Hurt” and its “phasing” sound effect
In the midst of the record’s production at Hollywood’s Gold Star Studios, the engineer there accidentally conceived a new technique. It was a sound effect that consisted of doubling the audio signal and then applying a delaying effect on one of the two signals, thus creating a swooshing sound. This sound effect was to be described as “phasing.” It is also called “flange phasing,” “electronic phasing,” and “flanging.” Just think of the sound of a jet taking off.
This type of sound effect would find favor in rock music, especially in psychedelic rock. The first psychedelic rock record that featured the flanging effect was “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces, released in the early 1960s. Jimi Hendrix was also a fan of the phasing effect and employed it in many of his records.
However, it is Miss Toni Fisher’s “The Big Hurt” which first introduced flanging as a commercially-accepted sound effect. Her full, powerful voice could still be heard in the midst of the swirling flanging effects and the background noise. This was to indicate that the singer is on that record indeed a female, thus she was always billed as “Miss Toni Fisher.”
“The Big Hurt” was released on Signet label in the autumn of 1959. It became a top 10 pop hit at #3. It also peaked at #16 on the R&B singles chart and #30 on the UK singles chart. Local New York disc jockey Dick Biondi would always refer to the song as “Toni Fisher’s weird one” (according to Wikipedia). Fisher was about 29 years old at the time she achieved her biggest hit.
To take advantage of the popularity of “The Big Hurt” and success on the charts, Fisher appeared on television shows such as Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show.
“The Big Hurt” would be later covered by a diverse array of artists such as Mauriel Evans, Joan Small, Del Shannon, Vicki Carr, Wes Montgomery, Sandy Posey, Scott Walker, The Lettermen, Timi Yuro, jazz musician Bobby Hutcherson, dance group Bearessence, and rockers Nick Cave as well as Frank Blank and the Catholics.
Later career and demise
Miss Toni Fisher would later have another Top 40 hit with “West of the Wall” (at #37 in 1962), which was also written by Shanklin. She also had a previous minor hit in 1960 with “How Deep Is the Ocean” at #93.
Fisher’s later records with labels Bigtop, Smash Records, Columbia Records and Capitol Records didn’t sell. In the last years of her showbiz career she went back to the club circuit once more. She finally withdrew from the limelight in the early 1970s. And much like about her earlier life, Miss Toni Fisher’s life after showbiz was also obscure.
Fisher suffered a fatal heart attack on February 12, 1999. Different sources cite that she either died in Los Angeles, California or in Hyrum, Utah.