Advertisement
 
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Teresa Brewer, 76; 1950s pop singer who transitioned to jazz

OBITUARIES

October 19, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Teresa Brewer, a singer who found fame as a novelty vocalist in 1950 with the chart-topping "Music! Music! Music!" but reinvented herself as a jazz stylist who performed with some of the genre's biggest names, has died. She was 76.

Brewer died of a neuromuscular disease Wednesday at her home in New Rochelle, N.Y., said Bill Munroe, a family spokesman.

Ed Sullivan introduced her as "the little girl with the big voice" when she was a regular on his television show, and the petite 100-pounder sang her way through the 1950s with a string of successful recordings that included another No. 1 hit, the sentimental ballad "Till I Waltz Again With You," which reportedly sold more than 1 million copies.

With rock 'n' roll changing the pop landscape -- and four daughters to raise -- Brewer pulled back from performing in the 1960s to focus on her family.

"One time she said her children were her biggest hits," Munroe told The Times on Thursday. "She was very down-to-earth, not pretentious at all, very charming and quick-witted."

After marrying her second husband -- jazz producer Bob Thiele -- she segued into jazz in the 1970s and became known for recording with such legends as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.

At her best, Brewer could "swing with a loose and easy fervor, aided greatly by the distinguished company" she kept, Richard S. Ginell wrote of her jazz performances in the All Music Internet database.

She was born Theresa Breuer on May 7, 1931, in Toledo, Ohio, the eldest of five children of a glass inspector for the Libby Owens Co. and his homemaker wife.

At 2, Brewer made her public debut singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on a children's radio program in Toledo. She was paid in cupcakes and cookies from the show's sponsor.

Three years later, she won a competition that led to appearances on the popular radio talent show "Major Bowes Amateur Hour." She spent the next seven years touring with a Bowes' troupe.

When she was 12, her parents insisted that she return to Toledo to concentrate on school, but as a high school junior, Brewer dropped out. She headed to New York City and performed in several talent shows that led to her first recording contract.

By then, she had slightly altered the spelling of her first and last names because "it was easier to read in marquee lights," according to a 1980 Toledo magazine story.

She soon was married and recording such 1950s hits as "Jilted," "Ricochet" and the blues ballad "Pledging My Love." She once estimated that she had made 300 records by the mid-1960s.

For decades, she also regularly performed in Las Vegas and on the national nightclub circuit.

Cast in the 1953 film "Those Redheads From Seattle," Brewer dyed her blond hair but turned down Paramount's offer of a long-term contract, according to the biography on her website. She wanted to remain on the East Coast with her family and build a part-time singing career from there.

In 1972, Brewer was divorced from Bill Monahan and married Thiele, who produced some of her early hits. He also wrote Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," which Brewer recorded. Thiele died in 1996.

Brewer continued performing and recording into the early 1990s.

The high-pitched voice that could easily go from a squeak to a roar became smoother with age, and critics noted that Brewer embraced jazz with the same vocal exuberance she had displayed in the 1950s.

"I always liked her because she had laughter and the sound of rippling water in her voice," said Jim Dawson, an author of pop music books. "Listening to Teresa Brewer, you couldn't be sad for long."

Brewer is survived by four daughters, Kathleen, Susan, Megan and Michelle; a brother, Henry; four grandsons; and five great-grandchildren.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|