Toni Savage, entertainer and philantropist

Laura Joan 'Toni' Swan (née Savage) was an entertainer who began her career singing and dancing, mixed with some accordion playing and ventriloquism for New Zealand and American troops during the Second World War. She continued entertaining throughout her life, and after her death in 2011 her executors donated her archives (known as the Toni Swan papers, NZMS 1746) to Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Central Library.

Ref: Toni performing for troops. From: Toni Swan. Papers. NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (14)

Ref: The Kentucky Korn Kobs. From: Toni Swan. Papers. NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (21).

Ref: The Mexicanos. From: Toni Swan. Papers. NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (26)

The archive includes many photographs of Toni singing and dancing. Some of the photos are of her performing alone but there are also photos of her singing and dancing with groups like ‘The Kentucky Korn Kobs.’ In later years Toni performed with ‘The Toni Savage Troupe.’ Some of the photos dating from this time show Toni with her ventriloquism puppets ‘Wonki Wolf’ and ‘Cookie Bear.’

Ref: Toni and her pal Joe. From: Toni Swan. Papers. NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (18)

Fortunately the Toni Swan archives give listeners a chance to hear Toni singing in some of her performances. There is a 78-rpm gramophone record, from the 1940s, which features her playing ‘The Twelfth Street Rag’ on accordion and her ventriloquist’s act. From later years there are also video cassettes of Toni performing with ‘The Toni Savage Troupe’ featuring her ventriloquism puppet ‘Wonki Wolf.’ One of the video cassettes shows Toni performing for a 1990s Telethon.

Toni’s archives also include a notebook containing clippings about some of her original compositions and an exercise book which includes outlines for two original musicals with the lyrics for songs she composed. Among her musical manuscripts was her own lyrical composition ‘If I could write a rhapsody’ and the lyrics and score for ‘Stenka Razen.’

Ref: Score and lyrics for 'If I could write a rhapsody'.
From: Toni Swan, Papers, NZMS 1746, 1.5.1

There are other musical scores performed by Toni during her long career. The collection includes old favourites like ‘In a monastery garden,’ ‘In a Persian market,’ ‘Three ha’pence a foot,’ ‘I’ll walk beside you,’ ‘Lay my head beneath a rose,’ ‘Thine alone’ and ‘When I lost you’.

Ref: Toni Savage with accordian.
From: Toni Swan, Papers, NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (20)

Due to advancing blindness Toni trained to read braille and use a white cane, and in 1973 was trained to use a guide dog. Because of the help she received from the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, she used her later performances to promote the guide dog service and raise funds for the Blind Foundation. Among her archives is an audio cassette where Toni records commentary on training with her guide dog at the Blind Foundation Guide Dog Training Centre. There are also two video cassettes; one of a march of owners with their guide dogs down Queen Street and the other on the guide dog service entitled 'A Friend for Life'. Other extracts from her archive can be listened to on Auckland Libraries You Tube channel.

Ref: Toni Savage and her accordian. 
From: Toni Swan, Papers, NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (24a)

Author: Christopher Paxton, Heritage Collections