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Teresa Brewer, brassy singer of '50s hits, '70s jazz songs

Teresa Brewer sang such novelty hits as 'Music! Music! Music!' and such ballads as 'Till I Waltz Again With You.' Teresa Brewer sang such novelty hits as "Music! Music! Music!" and such ballads as "Till I Waltz Again With You." (photofest file 1953)

WASHINGTON - Teresa Brewer, a bold-voiced singer whose novelty hit "Music! Music! Music!" established her as a jukebox favorite in the 1950s and secured her four-decade career performing in nightclubs and on Las Vegas stages, died yesterday at her home in New Rochelle, N.Y. She had progressive supranuclear palsy, a brain disorder. She was 76.

Ms. Brewer was a veteran radio performer at 19, when "Music! Music! Music!" became a pop-chart smash in 1950 with its bouncy Dixieland-ensemble backup and command to "put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon."

After a period of similar fare, she won over audiences as a balladeer singing "Till I Waltz Again With You" (which reportedly sold more than 1.4 million copies), "Let Me Go, Lover," and "A Sweet Old-Fashioned Girl."

Her voice was startlingly brassy for a 5-foot-2, 100-pound singer, and the disparity prompted jokes. Bing Crosby joked that Ms. Brewer was the "Sophie Tucker of the Girl Scouts." Time magazine called Ms. Brewer "a topnotch singer with a voice somewhere between a blowtorch and a cello."

A striking brunette - and later a blond - she was cast as a star of the musical western film "Those Redheads from Seattle" (1953) and was a mainstay of television variety shows for several years.

The advent of rock 'n' roll diminished her popularity. She began covering rhythm-and-blues hits first recorded by black singers ("Tweedle Dee," "You Send Me"), as well as a series of country-western records ("Jilted," "Have You Ever Been Lonely").

After marrying jazz producer Bob Thiele in 1972, she became mostly identified with a series of jazz recordings. Part of her appeal has been attributed by some critics to the first-class musicians she accompanied, including Count Basie, Earl "Fatha" Hines, and Stephane Grappelli.

Theresa Veronica Breuer was born May 7, 1931, in Toledo, Ohio. At her mother's urging, she began singing at talent competitions and from 1938 to 1943 made regular appearances on the "Major Bowes Amateur Hour" radio program.

She quit high school to focus on her career and changed the spelling of her name after arriving in New York in 1948. She said her breakthrough came while singing at the Sawdust Trail club near Manhattan's Times Square, after an agent overheard her voice coming from a sidewalk speaker placed by the club manager.

One of her first recording sessions on the fledgling London label matched her with the Dixieland All Stars, a group that included such heavyweight jazz players as saxophonist Ernie Caceres, trumpeter Max Kaminsky, and drummer George Wettling. Their version of "Music! Music! Music!" on the B-side of the disc - "Copenhagen" was the A side - became an unexpected million-seller.

She described herself as typecast in sugary, upbeat songs such as "Choo'n Gum" that tried to duplicate her first success. "That was my ootsy-poo period," she later said. "They were hits, but they should have been children's recordings."

After making "Those Redheads from Seattle," Ms. Brewer, who was married and would have four children, turned down other movie offers because of the demands of her growing family.

She focused on television instead, working with singer Mel Torme on the CBS musical series "Summertime USA" (1953), set at resorts from Havana to Atlantic City. She also was a guest singer on the Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, and Arthur Godfrey variety shows and performed at New York's Latin Quarter, Chicago's Palmer House, Las Vegas's Sahara Hotel, and other clubs.

A versatile singer, she spent the last several decades alternating among many genres.

She accompanied Count Basie's big band for a 1973 album of blues songs popularized by Bessie Smith. Her 1982 album, "Teresa Brewer in London," included a rock version of "Music! Music! Music!"

She was credited as coauthor of several songs, including "I Love Mickey," a novelty tune she recorded with New York Yankees centerfielder Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Her first marriage, to William Monahan, ended in divorce. Thiele died in 1996.

Ms. Brewer leaves four daughters from her first marriage, Kathleen Monahan-Granzen of Rye Brook, N.Y., Susan M. Dorot of White Plains, N.Y., Megan Ahearn of Port Chester, N.Y., and Michelle McCann of New Rochelle; a stepson, Bob Thiele Jr. of California; a brother; four grandsons; and five great-grandchildren.

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