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1950s Pop Singer Teresa Brewer


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1950s Pop Singer Teresa Brewer

by Valerie J. Nelson

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Teresa Brewer

NEW ROCHELLE, New York -- 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, died Wednesday, October 17 of a neuromuscular disease at her home in New Rochelle, New York, said Bill Munroe, a family spokesman. She was 76.

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 recently. "She was very down-to-earth, not pretentious at all, very charming and quick-witted."

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Teresa Brewer

After marrying her second husband -- jazz producer Bob Thiele -- Brewer segued into jazz in the 1970s and became known for recording with such jazz 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 online.

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 two, 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.

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Teresa Brewer

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.

Brewer 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." However, the end of the 1950s also marked the end of the heyday of Teresa Brewer's mega-hit records. After the end of the decade, her songs continued to make the charts, but not as consistently or as successfully.

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Liberace and Teresa Brewer

In 1959, "The One Rose" and "Heavenly Lover" sold well, but were not the overwhelming hits Teresa Brewer had previously produced. "Peace of Mind" and renditions of the country hits, "Anymore" and "Have You Ever Been Lonely," were chartmakers for Teresa in 1960.

Brewer continued to be in strong demand for personal appearances and television. After appearing on his show nearly 40 times, Teresa was invited by Ed Sullivan to be guest hostess for a special show saluting the U.S. Armed Forces.

In 1961, "Milord," Teresa's English version of French chanteuse Edith Piaf's best known song, was the last song by Teresa to make the pop charts. 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.

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Cynthia Bell, Teresa Brewer and Rhonda Fleming in a scene from

the 1953 film, 'Those Redheads From Seattle'

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. Brewer 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. To meet the needs of the family, Brewer cut back further on her personal appearances. Instead, Brewer opted to appear on television, finding that the schedule meshed well with her lifestyle.

When Brewer was on the road for club appearances, she avoided one night performances and preferred longer runs at venues like the Las Vegas showrooms so that her family could travel with her and settle in for a longer stay. At the same time, Brewer continued performing and recording into the early 1990s.

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Teresa Brewer (center) with pop rock group,

Sha Na Na on 'Teen Dance Party'

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. Altogether, she recorded nearly 600 song titles. For her contribution to the recording industry, Teresa Brewer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"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.

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