Teddy Grace (June 26, 1905, Arcadia, Louisiana – January 4, 1992, La Mirada, California) was an American female jazz singer.
She was born Stella Gloria Crowson, the penultimate of ten siblings: seven boys and three girls. Teddy always hated the name "Stella," and was only too happy to become Ted or Teddy when her baby brother couldn't manage her given name. Her father was a parish clerk, old-moneyed and important, and the inventor of a fraction-adding machine. Her mother was Frances James, a college graduate and dutiful wife. They lived on a forty-eight-acre pecan orchard.
Her older sister received classical training on the piano from a blind instructor named Elizabeth Garrett (the daughter of Pat Garrett, who shot Billy the Kid), and Teddy maintained to her dying day that big sis was the greatest pianist she had ever heard. One of her brothers played the trombone. While Teddy had no formal musical training, she could pick out songs by ear at a very young age, and she made good use of a ukulele given to her by an uncle. For her own instruction, she preferred to sneak out and climb to the roof of the barn, where she could hear the family of her father's "fetch and tote man," "Catlick" Johnson, sing black spirituals and the blues.
She married young and settled in Montgomery, Alabama and enjoyed the benefits of an initially successful domestic life. However as a result of an impromptu "party piece" song at a local country club she was bitten by the jazz bug. By 1933 she was widely heard on local radio stations and soon found herself singing in New York with some well regarded musicians. A contract with Mal Hallett, a successful New England based bandleader followed and helped spread her reputation via records and more radio exposure.
In the summer of 1939 she joined the Bob Crosby orchestra and enjoyed the musicianship of Irving Fazola, Eddie Miller and Billy Butterfield amongst others on her performances during this time. She only made another couple of sides in 1940 before suddenly joining the Woman's Army Corps. She decided she could best serve her country by performing at recruiting and bond drives. Sadly this put an even greater strain on her voice which gave out following an extended War Bond tour in 1944. She was unable to speak for years and was never again able to sing professionally again and disappeared into obscurity.
A dedicated fan David McCain subsequently tracked her down to LA Nursing home in 1991 where she was known by her fourth, final and sadly appropriate name - Stella Hurt. McCain prompted a reissue of her classic 30s recordings on two or three specialist labels. She died january 4, 1992 but not before she realised that there were people still listening to her songs.
(Info various sources mainly hepjazz.com)
Here's a one-reeler featuring the inimitable Teddy Grace, as featured in the 2007 Oxford American Music Issue.