Tibbett studied in New York City with Frank le Forge and in 1923 at the age of 26, he signed his first contract, for $60 per week, with the New York Metropolitan Opera, using the name of Tibbett. Over the ensuing years, with the Met, he built a hugely successful career. During the 1930s, Tibbett toured Europe and Australia, performing on stage or in concerts in London, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Australia.
In the early 1930s, Tibbett also appeared in movies . His Hollywood sojourn proved brief, although he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his first film, The Rogue Song, which was a 1930 MGM production with Laurel & Hardy, shot in two-color Technicolor. (One a few minutes of footage of the film, as well as the complete soundtrack, has been found.) Soon afterwards, he starred in another MGM musical film, New Moon, opposite Grace Moore. Also during the 1930s, Tibbett had a domestic radio program on which he sang formal music, his sponsor being the Packard Motor Car Company of America. The company chose him to announce the Packard 120 to the world on air; he drove one. When the firm wanted to sell less expensive cars, they persuaded him to add popular tunes to his repertoire in order to boost sales. He also appeared on Your Hit Parade.
Tibbett was a founder of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the most important labor union for solo performing artists. He was the Guild's proactive president for 17 years. His forceful and articulate advocacy of artistic causes was unique in its day. In the early 1950s, Tibbett tried performing in musicals and straight plays. He spent a summer in stock as the Reverend Davidson in Rain and played Captain Hook in a shortlived tour of the John Burrell staging of Peter Pan that was mounted for Jean Arthur. Veronica Lake played Peter. Most notably, Tibbett took over the Italian operatic bass Ezio Pinza's role in Fanny during its original Broadway run.
In later years, Tibbett became reclusive and suffered from alcoholism. His drinking and the strain caused by a hectic private and public life caused a decline in the quality of his voice during the 1940s, although he was retained on the Met's roster until 1950. He made a series of LP recordings during the 1950s, which show his voice in decline. Lawrence Tibbett died in 1960 in New York City as the result of a fall in his apartment.
The Times obituary said of him: "Tibbett had a big, bronzelike, dramatically eloquent voice that combined ringing power with remarkable agility...." "...he left behind not only the echoes of a great voice but the memory of a performer who could feel equally at home with high art and popular entertainment, suggesting that there is a magical link between the two."
Tibbett's recordings made during the 1920s and '30s are regarded as among the finest of that period. Many of them are available on CD.