In the early days she was often billed as ‘Miss’ Toni Fisher, and DJ Wink Martindale once said that the reason for that was to assure fans that she was indeed a girl, in spite of her powerful voice. Whether that’s true or not, she did make a big splash in 1959 with her unforgettable hit record, “The Big Hurt,” which was also notable for its inventive use of studio effects.
There are a surprising number of gaps in the information available to us now, but Toni Fisher was a Los Angeles native who began to show up professionally in the early 1950s or thereabouts. She was probably in her early twenties by then and over the next few years she bounced around the area, landing the occasional nightclub singing spot while also finding some work as an extra in movies and TV.
At some point later in the decade she joined forces with Wayne Shanklin, who was building what would be a notable career as a songwriter and music business pro. As a composer he’d already done well with “Jezebel” by Frankie Laine, and “Chanson D’Amour” (a hit for two different groups), and he would soon add Jerry Wallace’s “Primrose Lane” to his list of successes. In any case, he teamed up with Toni and apparently married her too, although not all sources agree about that.
By 1959 Shanklin had started his own record label and had also written the song he felt would be perfect for Toni’s breakout, but the “The Big Hurt” had something else going for it. During the recording session, Shanklin wanted what he called a ‘gimmick’ — something to differentiate it from the ordinary — which resulted in groundbreaking electronic phasing effects. It was the kind of thing that would become commonplace but was revolutionary at the time, and when combined with Toni’s singing it became a big hit with fans.
It helped pave the way for her to do TV shows like those hosted by Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark, and make other appearances too, but it was tough to keep the momentum going. She kept recording and did have a minor hit a couple of years later with “West of the Wall,” but soon faded from view. Toni Fisher was in her late sixties when died in 1999.