At AFTRA’s founding (as AFRA – American Federation of Radio Artists) in 1937, he was the first to hold the position of vice president under the presidency of Eddie Cantor, and was issued AFRA membership card No. 2. When Tibbett was elected to head the union in 1940, he was an internationally known opera star and a past Academy Award nominee for Best Actor for his work in 1930’s The Rogue Song. His accomplished baritone had graced the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House since 1923. During his AFRA presidency, he concurrently served as president of another entertainment union he helped found: The American Guild of Musical Artists, which was formed in 1936. He would serve as AGMA president until the summer of 1953.
In early 1937 while president of AGMA, just before AFRA’s founding, Tibbett reflected on the timelessness of change and the need for a union’s adaptability and collective action. With some updates, it could be used today: “To attempt to cope with the problems of today — whether they be music problems or problems in transportation — with the methods of 20 years ago is as disastrous as trying to get a green satin bustle into a new and extremely compact taxicab. Things happen differently in this day and the situations that arise in professional life are large-scale and cannot be considered from a thousand individual points of view. Problems must be considered collectively and broadly, as only an organization can consider them.”
In early 1938, when AFRA was six months old, Tibbett, as first vice president, sent a message updating AFRA members on its progress: “The original 400 recruits have grown to a solid membership of more than 4,400. The original two locals in Los Angeles and New York have affiliated one radio community after another until the AFRA network extends from Montreal, Canada, to Portland, Oregon, and from San Diego, California, to Shreveport, Louisiana … We joined AFRA because radio artists need a union. We expect to secure and enjoy benefits through our united efforts. We share a joint responsibility to stand by each other at all times in this united purpose.”
Tibbett is so far the only AFRA/AFTRA national president to be honored with his own postage stamp — as one of the Legends of American Music, issued Sept. 10, 1997. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in the Recording category, is at 6325 Hollywood Blvd.