Teresa Brewer

Chart-topping singer of the 1950s

Theresa Veronica Breuer (Teresa Brewer), singer: born Toledo, Ohio 7 May 1931; married first William Monahan (four daughters; marriage dissolved 1972), second 1972 Bob Thiele (died 1996; one stepson); died New Rochelle, New York 17 October 2007.

Teresa Brewer was among the biggest-selling stars of the early 1950s and part of the lyric of her 1950 million-seller, "Music! Music! Music!", "Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon" has passed into common parlance. Despite her huge successes, she only continued her career sporadically, regarding family responsibilities as more important and calling her children "her biggest hits". This was in sharp contrast to her own childhood when her mother and her aunt had encouraged her to perform, hoping that she would be another Shirley Temple.

The eldest of five children, she was born Theresa Veronica Breuer in 1931 in Toledo, Ohio, where her father worked as an inspector in a glass factory. When only two years old, she was singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on Uncle August's Kiddies Show for local radio. Although she had no vocal training, she took tap dancing lessons and became a proficient singer and dancer. Until she was 12, she toured and made radio appearances with Major Bowes' Amateur Hour, and then concentrated on her studies.

In 1948, she was invited to appear in New York on the TV talent show Stairway to the Stars, and adjusted her name to Teresa Brewer. She remained in New York, staying with her aunt, and then meeting her first husband, Bill Monahan, with whom she had four daughters.

When the British record label Decca established a subsidiary, London, in America, Jack Pleis was instructed to find appropriate talent. The speakers outside one Manhattan club broadcast what was happening on stage and he was intrigued when he heard Brewer's voice. He gave her a contract with London, but her first record, "A Man Wrote a Song", did nothing. For her second, he teamed her with some good jazz players, the Dixieland Jazz-Stars, and they made "Copenhagen" as an A-side and "Music! Music! Music!" for the flip.

The disc-jockeys soon pointed out which was better and London Records changed their attention to "Music! Music! Music!", which topped the US charts for four weeks. Although there were no UK record charts in 1950, "Music! Music! Music!" became the best-selling sheet music and Brewer's version is easily the best-known of the 10 which were released. Brewer said in later years that her record sounded "painfully slow" and she performed it at tongue-twisting pace in concert.

She followed her success with some novelty nonsense, "Choo'* Gum" and "Molasses Molasses", before being shunted to another new Decca label, Coral, where she sang "You'll Never Get Away" with Don Cornell. In 1952, she topped the US charts for a further five weeks with a song based on a Strauss waltz, "Till I Waltz Again With You". Brewer became a redhead for a role alongside Guy Mitchell in the musical western Those Redheads From Seattle, filmed in 3D, in 1953 and made a TV series with Mel Tormé.

Good songs were hard to come by and so anything decent would be covered by several artists. When the record producer Mitch Miller, heard a song that was being used by Alcoholics Anonymous, called "Let Me Go, Devil", he commissioned a new lyric, "Let Me Go, Lover". His production of Joan Weber's recording topped the US charts, although Brewer's cover only made the Top 20. In the UK, it was a different story, with four versions making the Top 20 – Dean Martin (number three), Ruby Murray (five), Teresa Brewer (nine) and Joan Weber (16). Brewer lost out in the UK to Joan Regan with "Ricochet" (1953) and "Jilted" (1954) and to Alma Cogan with "Bell Bottom Blues" (1954) and "The Banjo's Back In Town" (1955). Cogan had a similar effervescence to Brewer on bouncy, up-tempo numbers.

Many white American singers covered songs by black artists, knowing that the original artists would only receive restricted airplay. This practice is reviled with hindsight but it has to be viewed in context, and certainly none of the performers involved, including Johnnie Ray, Pat Boone, Georgia Gibbs and Brewer herself, felt they were doing anything wrong. Brewer's versions of Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love", LaVern Baker's "Tweedle-Dee", Fats Domino's "Bo Weevil", Ivory Joe Hunter's "A Tear Fell" and Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" all had some commercial success.

With the advent of rock'*'roll, Brewer fell out of favour. "I Love Mickey!" (1956), for the baseball player Mickey Mantle, could only have limited appeal, and with "The Hula Hula Hoop Song" (1958), she was backing the wrong craze, but she had occasional hits like "A Sweet Old-Fashioned Girl" (1956), "Nora Malone" (1957) and "How Do You Know It's Love" (1960). Furthermore, she had set the stage for the next generation of female singers. Connie Francis emulated the plaintiveness of her ballads, while the similarly petite Brenda Lee captured her vivaciousness. Ed Sullivan would introduce Brewer as "the little girl with the big voice".

Brewer retired to raise her family, although she still made occasional albums and appeared on television. By the time she was a guest on The Muppet Show (1971), she was already a grandmother. When her first marriage failed, she married the jazz producer Bob Thiele, who made a long string of albums with her – Songs of Bessie Smith (1973), A Sophisticated Lady (1981), Midnight Café (1982) and I Dig Big Band Singers (1983) being among them.

On Memories of Louis (1991), she was accompanied by many of the greatest jazz trumpeters. Her husband had written Louis Armstrong's hit "What a Wonderful World", and Brewer made an album of the same name with Stéphane Grappelli and Ruby Braff in 1989. Critics questioned whether her high-pitched, brassy voice would work with such musicians, but her voice had become smoother with age. Quite possibly, though, she was better suited to the down-home charm of Chas and Dave for her album Teresa Brewer In London (1982), also produced by Thiele. Thiele died in 1996 and Brewer never recorded again.

Spencer Leigh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas