Marni Nixon: The Singing Star Behind the (Cartoon) Stars – Animation Scoop

Marni Nixon: The Singing Star Behind the (Cartoon) Stars

Hollywood has a long history of employing trained singers to sing off camera for actors who, even though capable of carrying a tune, do not have the technical skill or range of a training vocalist. Marni Nixon, who passed away on Monday, was easily the most celebrated of these “ghost singers.”

What is not as commonly cited are instances in which a studio singer performs a song in place of a speaking actor in animation. In recent years, this has become much more of a selling point than a secret. Lea Salonga sang for Ming-Na Wen as Mulan and in place of Linda Larkin for Jasmine. Brad Kane was the singing voice of Aladdin—and appeared on the Academy Awards telecast with Salonga to perform the Best Song winner.

But back in Marni Nixon’s early career, it was forbidden to reveal that a star was not singing on camera. Nixon was actually warned that her career would be finished if she ever revealed it. But The King and I star Deborah Kerr was so impressed with Nixon’s talent, she insisted that it be publicized.

In this video, Nixon explains how her voice was combined with Kerr’s for a song called “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” which did not appear in the film but is a great example of how flawless Nixon’s talent was:

In addition to doing the singing for Janet Waldo in Hanna-Barbera’s Jack and the Beanstalk and June Foray in Disney’s Mulan, Nixon was also among the crème de la crème vocalists in The Randy Van Horne Singers, an ensemble whose numerous credits include several recordings as well as TV and movie work including early Hanna-Barbera themes.

mary-poppins-marni-nixon

Chances are you’ve heard Marni Nixon many times without realizing it, as it is common for “ghost singers” to be mixed into the performances of on-camera performers—even the ones who are trained singers—rounding out notes here and there in order to hone the music to perfection (composer Alan Menken even sang Clopin’s last high note for actor Paul Kandel in “The Bells of Notre Dame”).

To those of us who grew up listening to Disneyland Records’ “studio cast” version of 10 Songs from Mary Poppins or the Storyteller album of “Poppins” in the ‘60s, it was Marni Nixon we heard, sometimes as often as the Julie Andrews version.

Ironically, Nixon appeared on screen with Andrews in 1965’s The Sound of Music, playing Sister Sophia in the “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” song.

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar is a two-time Grammy-nominated and Addy-winning writer/editor/producer, celebrating 30 years with The Walt Disney Company. Greg’s projects include national advertising, network TV, commercials, magazines and thousands of print ads and publications. Greg’s books include Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records; Jimmy Johnson’s Inside the Whimsy Works: My Life with Walt Disney Productions; as well as Disney Parks merchandise; movie adaptations and records. Greg also appears on TV, home video, radio’s TV Confidential, Disney Parks Blog, cartoonresearch.com, Greg-O-Vision.blogspot.com and disneymusicemporium.com.
Greg Ehrbar
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  • Michael J. Kouri

    What a shame to learn of Marni’s passing. She was one of my voice teachers early on in my own musical career. She was born in Altadena, Ca., and I spent many wonderful times working with her, signing autographs next to her at celebrity autograph shows, and we enjoyed going to Disneyland together. She loved Disneyland as much as we all do. Rest In Peace dear friend…History will Never forget you!