Tiffany Coburn: A Heavenly Voice

Posted on April 11, 2013

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By David Ettinger

Hearing Tiffany Coburn’s thunderous voice practically shake the roof of First Orlando, you would think she trained years at the Boston Conservatory or the Julliard School of Music. You’d be wrong. Actually, Tiffany’s powerful pipes are a simple matter of genetics.

“My dad’s side of the family is very strong instrumentally,” she said. “My grandmother was an organist for her church and my aunts were pianists. My mom’s side of the family are the singers. My mom is a fabulous singer with a beautiful voice — ‘liquid-gold’, I like to call it. My grandfather was a barbershopper [a barbershop quartet singer]. They were both very musically influential in my life.”

Also influential was her strong Christian upbringing. “Both of my parents were saved at a young age and are very strong believers,” said Tiffany, whose maiden name is Schwab.

Church was a huge part of the life of this self-described “West Coast gal” who was born in Fullerton, California, but also lived in other Southern Cal cities including San Diego — where her parents are from— Anaheim, Placentia and Yorba Linda. Also during her girlhood and teen years, Tiffany, the oldest of three children, and the family spent several years in Eugene, Oregon.

But it was in California where Tiffany gave her life to Christ at the age of eight. “I was very, very close to my mother’s parents,” she said. “My grandmother, whose name is Marie Marsh, was the one who led me to the Lord. I remember being in the front room by the blue phone. We just knelt by the desk and she led me in a prayer. She was and continues to be my spiritual mentor.”

And Grandmother Marie has every reason to be proud as Tiffany has never rebelled or strayed from the Lord. “I was always very involved in church,” she said.

That involvement had much to do with singing. “Singing was always my heart, my passion,” Tiffany said. “I started singing when I was about four years old. I actually had pitch back then, which is surprising at such a young age.”

Her passion was further kindled by a trip to Disneyland when she was nine. “There was a show called ‘Coke Terrace’ where the band came up from the ground,” she said. “They had female singers, and I remember saying, ‘If I could only sing like them.’ Back then my dream was to sing at Disneyland.”

Meanwhile, Tiffany sang for youth choirs, church and public school productions and in various ensembles. She also took piano lessons for three years. “Anytime there was a musical opportunity, I went for it,” she said. “My parents never had to push me into it; it was something I wanted to do.”

Interestingly, as she got older, though her voice was superior to other performers, Tiffany was never given the lead roles in musicals. “I was six-foot-tall flat-footed, and taller than just about all the guys who were great singers and actors,” she explained. “So they would always give me these great solo numbers, but never the leads.”

Tiffany’s first professional experience came following high school when the then-17-year-old auditioned and won a place with the Continental Singers, a Christian organization created to share the Gospel through music and the performing arts. “Even though I had to raise my own support, it was still a professional group,” she explained. “I was put in the Continental orchestra and was one of eight singers.”

Tiffany toured with the Continental Singers for four summers until the age of 20. “While I was with them, I met many people in the Gospel music world and knew that’s where I wanted to be,” she said. “I got the [music] bug big time and didn’t want to do anything but sing.”

Well, she had at least one other area of interest. “During my first tour, I met a man seven years older than me and fell in love,” she said. “He was from Mississippi, so I moved there.”

While in Mississippi, Tiffany did what she called “jobbing around,” including work as a salesperson in a department store. Then something happened that sent her back to California: The Christian touring band Truth contacted the man with whom she had fallen in love, a trombone player, and asked him to join them. “It was his dream, so that’s what he did,” Tiffany said.

Now back in Anaheim and living with her grandmother [her parents moved to Saudi Arabia for employment], Tiffany kept in contact with the man she loved, but it was not easy sustaining a long-distance relationship, and they broke up. Meanwhile, she had gone to travel school in order to have something to fall back on in case her singing career didn’t pan out. “After nine months, I graduated at the top of my class and got a job at Disneyland booking tour packages to Disney World in Orlando.”

So, here she was, working at the place where as a nine-year-old she so wanted to sing. You would think she tried out as a singer. “By that time I wasn’t interested. I was very involved with singing at church and that was good enough. As far as singing at Disney, I never thought of it.”

Eventually, Tiffany found working in the travel business unfulfilling and longed to sing full-time. So, following her final tour with the Continentals at the age of 20, she auditioned for a Christian acting group called Jeremiah People. However, because of their emphasis on acting rather than singing, they didn’t select her. Instead, they pointed her toward Walt Disney World’s Voices of Liberty. “This was one of those times when I really saw God’s hand at work,” she said. “I called, and as it ‘turned out,’ they were having auditions within a month, so I went to Orlando.”

Before that, however, she learned that the creative director of the Voices of Liberty was First Orlando member Derric Johnson. As it once again “turned out,” Johnson was the college and music pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego where Tiffany’s parents had attended and where Tiffany’s grandmother had played the organ. In fact Johnson also performed the marriage ceremony for Tiffany’s parents. “My parents called him from Saudi Arabia and said, ‘We’re sending our kid to audition and we just want you to know she’s coming.’ When I walked in, Derric knew who I was.”

Though believing she was out of her league, she auditioned, made the group and relocated. She arrived in January of 1989 and has been part of Voices on and off since. Tiffany’s first stint with Voices lasted two years before she joined and toured with Truth. But that ended a little more than a year later when things weren’t going the way she had planned. She returned to Orlando in the summer of 1991 and resumed singing with Voices, but also joined Christian music superstar Sandi Patty as a part-time backup singer. She juggled both jobs for five years until 1996. “It was an unbelievable experience — my greatest ever,” Tiffany said. “Sandi is the same person onstage and off. It was amazing to be singing behind her with 50,000 people in the audience.”

But there was more to Tiffany’s life than just singing. In 1992 she met Chip Coburn, who also worked at Disney. They met while performing with the Christian group The Spurrlows — a third musical entity Tiffany was part of. “We were driving back from a show in Fort Lauderdale, and within the first 10 minutes of the drive we had a date,” she said. “Following that, he was very old-fashioned in pursuing me. It was a very old-fashioned courtship.”

This suited Tiffany just fine. “Chip and I got engaged three months after our first date. We were married three months after that.” And by the way, Derric Johnson, who had performed her parents’ marriage, performed Tiffany and Chip’s.

A few years later, Tiffany was expecting the couple’s first child, but suffered a miscarriage. “That was so terrible. Though I was only pregnant for 11 weeks, it was long enough to be attached, excited and come up with names. I was devastated.”

Shortly after, in 1996, Tiffany rejoined Truth, with Chip as the road director, and the Coburns stayed on the road until 1999 before returning to Orlando where Tiffany resumed singing with Voices. But the couple still longed for a child. The Coburns tried again to conceive, but were unsuccessful. Then on Mother’s Day of 2001, they — along with other couples in the congregation — stood for prayer to have a child. God honored their pleas as their daughter Paris was born a little more than a year later. “That was a real testimony to answered prayer,” Tiffany said.

Since then, Chip and Tiffany have settled down and have stayed off the road. “Life is fun right now,” Tiffany said. “Things are particularly exciting because I finished recording a CD that was produced by [Gospel singer/songwriter] Babbie Mason.”

The 12-song CD, Permission to Breathe, has just been released. And though excited about what the Lord may do through her CD, Tiffany is thankful that the Lord has blessed her with such a special gift to bring glory to Him. “My singing has given me opportunities to touch a heart and change a life for the Lord. I am just His tool to reach others for Him.”

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