The Troy Street Observer

Oct 20, 1977: Teddi King Part 3, “This Is New”

Earlier installments in this series detailed Teddi King’s rise as a jazz singer in the early 1950s, and her venture into the realm of pop later in that decade. Her career faded in the 1960s, but the improving prospects for interpreters of the American songbook revived it in the 1970s, and brought her into the studio with Dave McKenna on October 20, 1977.

Photo of Teddi King
Teddi King at the This Is New sessions, October 1977

Earlier that year, King told The New Yorker’s Whitney Balliett that despite the sequined gowns and Las Vegas stage act and RCA Victor contract, “I was doing pop pap, and I was in musical despair. I didn’t have my lovely jazz music and the freedom it gives. Elvis Presley got bigger and bigger, and rock arrived, and I got very depressed and thought of quitting the business.” King didn’t quit, but she labored through the sixties in near-anonymity.

While working on Nantucket in summer 1970, King contracted lupus, the debilitating disease she battled for the rest of her life. Weakened by illness, she changed her approach to singing. King always liked Billie Holiday for her depth of feeling, but other influences changed over time. As a young band singer, she liked Frances Wayne and Helen Forrest. There was a strong Sarah Vaughan influence in King’s jazz material, and Lena Horne inspired her RCA years. In the seventies, she concentrated on lyrics and telling stories in song, and Mabel Mercer became, as she told Balliett, “her goddess.” (Balliett, an avid King fan, dedicated his 1979 volume of essays, American Singers, to her.)

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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.

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September 18, 1929: Miss Teddi King, Part 1

Teddi King, born in Revere, Mass. on September 18, 1929, was all of 22 when Nat Hentoff proclaimed in Down Beat that she was “the most gifted vocalist this city has ever produced.” The list of serious contenders wasn’t that long—Peg LaCentra, Evelyn White with the Sabby Lewis band, and of course Frances Wayne—but the definitive statement resonates.

Photo of Teddi King, 1954
Teddi King, 1954

Her father was a song-and-dance man, a vaudeville veteran, and her mother a singer. Teddi came up in the postwar 1940s as a singer with Boston big bands, first with trumpeter Georgie Graham (Al Vega was the pianist), then Gene Jones, Jack Edwards, Ray Dorey, and finally with Nat Pierce.

King made her recording debut in May 1949 with the Pierce Orchestra, on “Goodbye Mr. Chops” (Motif M003A), a record she never liked; it wasn’t her kind of tune. It was the first of five records she made with the Pierce Orchestra, although it would be almost 30 years before we heard all of them.

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