The Troy Street Observer

September 29: Miss Teddi King, Part 2

There were two Teddi Kings. The first was the jazz singer introduced here on September 18, the one who worked with Nat Pierce and George Shearing, and recorded for Storyville. The second was the major-label pop singer we meet today.

Teddi King became an RCA Victor recording artist in 1955, and jazz listeners weren’t pleased with the change in direction that followed.

Photo of Teddi King, 1956
The Show Business Teddi King, 1956

First came the singles made for release on 45 rpm records. King was whisked into the studio to work with Hugo Winterhalter, who scrapped simplicity in favor of a full studio orchestra and strings. There were songs of questionable merit. But there was also advertising, and touring with the RCA Parade of Stars, and the result was King’s biggest commercial hit, the syrupy “Mr. Wonderful,” which made it to number 18 on the Billboard Hot Hundred chart in March 1956.

Next came the LPs. In 1956-57, King recorded three albums for RCA: Bidin’ My Time (LPM-1147), To You (LPM-1313), and A Girl and Her Songs (LPM-1454). All followed a pattern. Each included a few Storyville-type tunes sung with a small group. But then there were too-bright pop arrangements and saccharine ballads with pillowy accompaniment. Each album, though inconsistent, had its high points, and King never failed to sing well.

Finally there was King’s nightclub act. She played the country’s top clubs, like the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago, and the Blue Angel in New York. She was a dynamic performer, and her admitted inspiration for the show-biz act was Lena Horne.

Singing what one writer called “commercial jazz” had a price—King’s core jazz audience started falling off. Less than a year after her appearance on the Newport stage, Nat Hentoff, in a March 1956 article in Saturday Review titled “The Vanishing Jazz Singer,” praised King’s sound as cool and clear and her intonation as flawless. But her recent work was disappointing. King, who “once gave promise of having the capacity to transform her voice into a warmly improvising, swinging instrument, is now a careful polisher of quality show tunes in supper clubs and a not-so-careful belter of penny-dreadfuls in recording studios.”

But King was determined to make it singing both jazz and pop, even if jazz opportunities were few. She was “Caught in the Act” by Down Beat’s Cal Kolbe in December 1956, who wrote: “Singing at Storyville for the first time in almost two years, Teddi King had no trouble convincing anyone that she belonged there. Although she has a delicacy of sound uncommon among jazz singers, one would do well to think twice and listen again, harder, before dismissing her from the field. Her vocal orientation is unmistakably and consistently jazz centered. On up-tunes, she swings potently, and her ballads are studies in effective sensibility well beyond the reach of the nonjazz singer.”

King was still a jazz singer to reckon with, and Hentoff needn’t have worried. But the jazz audience was small, certainly not large enough to satisfy RCA, and King parted company with them in 1958. She made one more of those inconsistent, mixed-bag albums, All the Kings’ Songs, for Coral in 1959 (CRL 757278), and then she stopped. King walked away from the industry to concentrate on performance, and didn’t record again for 14 years. That’s where we’ll conclude our story on October 20.

In 1959 or 1960, King was a guest on the Playboy Penthouse television show in this most…unusual setting. Teddi sings “The Tennessee Williams Blues,” by Bill Heyer, who wrote for King’s nightclub act and later went on to some notoriety as a composer of off-Broadway revues.

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