Teri Thornton, born Shirley Enid Avery (September 1, 1934, Detroit, Michigan - May 2, 2000, Englewood, New Jersey) was an American jazz singer.
Ms. Thornton had a husky, keening voice with a musely vibrato; she was a vibrant performer with a caustic sense of humour, and she was particularly gifted at coaxing harmonic complexity and emotion out of the blues.
singer who was the host of a local radio show, encouraged her to study classical music. Thornton began her singing career in 1956 with an engagement at Cleveland's Ebony Club before going on tour and playing and recording in Chicago. Her debut recording session in the winter of 1960/1 found her teamed with several notable jazz musicians including Clark Terry, Britt Woodman, Earle Warren, Seldon Powell, Wynton Kelly, Freddie Green, Sam Jones, Jimmy Cobb, and Sam Herman.
She took part in a television program celebrating Duke Ellington's 40th anniversary in music. It featured Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald who requested that Thornton join them in singing several Ellington songs accompanied by Billy Strayhorn at the piano. Ella Fitzgerald told Down Beat magazine that Ms. Thornton was her favourite singer.
After releasing two more albums, including 1963's "Open Highway" on Columbia (Tony Bennett wrote the liner notes for this album: "Teri sings with life, feeling, intensity, intelligence, and taste". "She's the first singer in years who doesn't have any gimmicks, any tricks. Instead, she's endowed with perfect pitch, a three-octave range, solid training, and years of invaluable experience. All this has made her create here a great album.").
She had a 1963 hit with "Somewhere In The Night", the theme from a popular television show, The Naked City. Her popularity opened doors for her but an opportunity to tour Australia as an accompanying artist to Frank Sinatra was mishandled and lost. Her early success was still further and more seriously damaged when she started to lose an ongoing struggle with alcohol addiction. Apart from damaging her career, this also blighted her personal life and she went through three divorces, a long and arduous spell outside music, during which she drove a cab for a while, and a term of imprisonment.
Here's Either Way I Lose from 1964
Over the following years her health steadily deteriorated and eventually she was diagnosed as having cancer of the bladder. She survived this after a three-year struggle and in the late 90s was living in a retirement home for artists. She still hoped to continue with her singing career but the odds were clearly stacked against her. This was when her manager arranged a recording session with Verve Records, her first for more than 30 years, and also entered her in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute's Jazz Vocal Competition. Teri Thornton was once called by the saxophonist Cannonball Adderley "the greatest voice since Ella Fitzgerald".
The recently amended competition rules meant that an artist of her maturity was no longer barred but nevertheless it came as a great, and very welcome, surprise, when the judges (Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nnenna Freelon, Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves, Joe Williams) announced Thornton as the winner. She received a $20,000 prize, rave reviews, a nightclub engagement, another at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York. The 1999 release of I'll Be Easy To Find, which includes a track from the 1998 Monk Competition, confirmed not only a musical re-awakening but also a triumph of a remarkable spirit.
A few months later Thornton was dead, finally losing her battle with cancer. (info various, mainly gracenote.com)