“Tip toe through the tulips with me…”
The words “one-of-a-kind” get thrown around quite a bit, but they were perhaps never more appropriate than when used to describe a gentle soul named Tiny Tim. He captivated and amused the world with his inimitable falsetto voice, quirky wardrobe and ever-present ukulele. His appeal landed him an enormously successful Top-20 single, one that would forever be linked to the offbeat performer.
Tim started out in life as Herbert Khaury. Growing up in New York City in the 30s, Tim’s love of music was evident from an early age, when he developed what would become a lifelong passion for the performers of yesteryear such as Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee. The ukulele became his instrument of choice and he used it to accompany his vocals as he proceeded to develop a vocabulary of pop standards for his repertoire.
Performing on the streets of Manhattan, few took notice of Tim when he used his normal tenor range. But when he discovered that he could sing the same material in a much higher falsetto range, he started getting more and more recognition, developing somewhat of a cult following as he performed around the Harvard campus in the 50s and 60s. As his popularity grew, he was asked to appear on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, where he sang “Tiptoe Through The Tulips,” a Tin Pan Alley song from the 20s. Audiences loved the quirky performer with the long curly hair, quiet demeanor and impossibly high voice. Before he knew it, he was being signed to Reprise Records.
In 1968, he released his debut album, God Bless Tiny Tim, featuring the song that had made him famous on television. Many more television performances followed, including numerous appearances on shows such as Laugh In and The Tonight Show, where he would appear a total of 30 times and draw in 40 million viewers during one particular appearance in December, 1969, when he wed his girlfriend, Miss Vicky. That same year, he released the album, For My Little Friends, a collection of children’s songs that was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Tiny Tim performed in front of 600,000 screaming fans in 1970 at the Isle of Wright Festival, mixing up his usual fare of pop standards with a few modern rock and roll classics. He continued to perform throughout the decades that followed, including numerous shows in Las Vegas. He also appeared in the 1986 horror flick, Blood Harvest, as a psychotic clown who plays ukulele. In later years, we was a regular guest on The Howard Stern Show and continued to release recordings, the most notable of which was a pairing with the group Brave Combo, resulting in the critically-acclaimed album, Girl.
Sadly, Tim was in poor health through much of the 90s and eventually passed away in 1996 from a heart attack. Those that knew him personally reflected that, despite his flashy wardrobe and quirky antics, he was an intelligent, quiet man who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of music from the early 20th century. But it was that voice – that warbled falsetto that everyone will always remember him by. With ukulele in hand, he proved himself fearless and audiences loved him for his originality. And, although it is said about many performers, in the case of Tiny Tim, there will most certainly never be another performer quite like him.
If you remember seeing Tiny Tim on television in your youth, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section.