Meet our newest neighbor, the Grammy Award-winning soul of the iconic ‘70s pop duo Captain & Tennille.
You know her voice and you know her music. But as the singer of “Do That to Me One More Time” and “Love Will Keep Us Together” gets to know her new community, let’s learn some more about Lake Mary’s newest chart-topping resident.
A few months ago, Toni Tennille loaded her three Australian Shepherds into the back of a minivan and began a four-and-a-half-day trek that would take her from Prescott, Arizona – the place she’d called home for the previous eight years – towards Lake Mary and a new house she’d bought sight-unseen over the Internet. She’s been one of American pop music’s most iconic stars since the 1970s, but at 75 years old, Toni was ready to write the next chapter of her life story, both figuratively and literally.
It’s a story that began with classical piano lessons at age seven and continued through college, where she sang with the storied Auburn Knights Orchestra.
“I minored in music, but my major was English,” Toni explains. “Words were always just as important to me.”
Her studies laid the foundation for a three-pronged career: singing, songwriting, and playing the piano. Many of Toni’s fans don’t remember her as a pianist, but one of her earliest professional successes was playing acoustic piano with The Beach Boys.
Most of America got to know Toni Tennille in 1975 when she and husband Daryl Dragon began commandeering the pop charts as Captain & Tennille. The duo’s output was pure pop, tunes that worked their way into a listener’s consciousness immediately and stayed there persistently. They created a string of gold records with megahits including “Do That to Me One More Time,” “Muskrat Love,” and “Love Will Keep Us Together,” the Grammy Award-winning Record of the Year in 1976. Daryl was a masterful keyboard player and a solid producer, but it was Toni’s polished vocals and effervescent personality that captured the country’s heart.
Captain & Tennille were so popular that the ABC network debuted an eponymous primetime variety show for the couple in 1976. Ratings were good and the show quickly became a go-to destination for stars like Bob Hope, Redd Foxx, and Ella Fitzgerald. After a year on TV, though, the couple decided that making music full-time was their real passion, and they opted out of their TV contract to return to the stage and the studio. As the duo’s popularity soared, Toni’s voice was suddenly in demand all over show business. In addition to being half of Captain & Tennille, she found herself doing session work with acts like the Beach Boys, Elton John, and even Pink Floyd.
“That’s the gig that everyone asks about,” Toni chuckles. “Working with Dave Gilmour [Pink Floyd’s guitarist and frequent lead vocalist] was a real pleasure.”
Toni and Daryl moved from California to the Lake Tahoe area where they performed frequently. It was around this time that Toni’s solo career kicked into a higher gear. She reinvented herself as a big band singer, focusing on the standards that reflected Toni’s own musical tastes. Captain & Tennille performed together occasionally, but Toni was establishing her own professional identity. She even wound up starring for a year on Broadway in Victor/Victoria.
By the mid 2000s, Toni was ready to step away from the world of show business. She and Daryl relocated again, this time to Prescott, where Toni fit into her new community comfortably. Reflecting on that period, she explains, “If I wanted to step out in the morning with my dogs, I didn’t have to worry about my hair or makeup or about the paparazzi stalking me to get an unflattering picture.”
The new lifestyle in Prescott suited Toni well, but behind a serene public facade, some longstanding discontents began simmering. It was public knowledge that Captain & Tennille faced an uncertain future as a result of health issues that Daryl was experiencing, but no one suspected that Toni and Daryl were anything but the ideal couple they’d always seemed to be. In January of 2014, however, Captain & Tennille fans were stunned to learn that after 39 years of marriage, Toni had filed for divorce. Even today, it’s an uncomfortable subject for Toni.
“It’s very hard to go to some of those places," she admits. “It’s hard to explain to people what’s been going on in my mind.”
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Obviously, Toni was making some big changes in her life, but the next one came at her from out of the blue. Toni got a call from her sister, Jane, who began the conversation with: “Don’t say anything until I’m through!”