Terry Devon: Much-loved singer of the postwar years
Wednesday 24 April 2013
Terry Devon was an award-winning British vocalist of the 1940s and early 1950s who was known as much for her scat singing as for more conventional performances. As part of the Keynotes she was a resident singer on the BBC comedy series Take It From Here, but she retired to raise her family and to support her husband, the showbusiness manager and agent, Tito Burns.
Teresa Devon was born in London's East End in May 1922, the only child of Manny and Connie Devon, a second generation family of immigrants from Russia. Manny was a hairdresser in Shepherd's Bush, and although she won a scholarship to a grammar school she left early to help him in his business. Her sights were set on singing professionally and she won a crooning competition on Radio Luxembourg.
When Devon was 16 she auditioned for Billy Thorburn's orchestra. At first he considered her too young, but he recognised her talent and she became their female vocalist. She made her first broadcast in 1939 and was featured in their popular series, The Organ, The Dance Band And Me. She made her first record, "Any Old Hearts To Mend", for Parlophone and this was followed by "To Mother With Love" and the wartime favourite "Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye".
In 1940 she toured with Thorburn in the wartime revue, Ssh… Keep It Dark. Moving to the Oscar Rabin Band, Devon entertained troops abroad. She recalled the ship sailing through minefields and then hitting the pier and splitting in half. After the war, Devon became part of the Keynotes harmony group and they broadcast every week on Take It From Here, never being sure how the comedian Jimmy Edwards was going to introduce them.
The accordionist Tito Burns was having success with his jazz group, effectively introducing bebop to the UK. When Devon became their vocalist, she developed a talent for singing scat, following the American singers Ella Fitzgerald and Jackie Cain. Among her records for Decca were "Be Bop Spoken Here", a playful duet with Burns, and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles".
"Terry was an excellent singer," Burns told me in 2002, "and the big joke in the business was that I couldn't afford her so we married and I got her on the cheap. She was with the band until we had our first child and then she retired." Devon also worked with other bands of the period such as Geraldo and toured for a while as a duo with Len Camber.
Devon married Burns in November 1948, a very successful relationship ending with Burns' death 62 years later. Burns was a successful manager, handling Cliff Richard, the Searchers and the Zombies and he promoted UK tours by Tony Bennett and Victor Borge. Devon helped him with his business and they were golf companions. They had two daughters, Lynda (Lil) in 1953 and Sharon, born in 1959. Although Devon never returned to singing professionally, her old fans saw her as a contestant on her favourite programme, Countdown.
Teresa Devon, singer: born London 19 May 1922; married 1948 Tito Burns (died 2010; two daughters); died London 5 April 2013.
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