Teri Thornton, a talented but under-appreciated jazz vocalist who died more than a decade ago, had a career that was varied and unconventional to say the least. Although she’s probably most remembered for her successful recording of “Somewhere in the Night,” (the theme for the TV show Naked City) she went through a lot of ups and downs in her career. Among them were time spent as an anonymous singer in TV commercials, early solo success followed by decades of obscurity, and finally a solid comeback in her later years.
Born in Detroit as Shirley Enid Avery, she began appearing in local clubs during the 1950s, moving to New York in the following decade. By then she was using the name Teri Thornton and she found work singing TV ads before eventually managing to make some good records of her own. She soon gained the respect of solid jazz pros like Clark Terry, who worked with her on several projects, and guys like Cannonball Adderly and Tony Bennett, who praised her talent, as did Duke Ellington, who also appeared with her. She had a Top Ten hit with “Somewhere in the Night” and performed it on Ed Sullivan and other TV variety shows, and she had several other good records.
But after relocating to Los Angeles Thornton virtually disappeared for the next couple of decades, although it was later discovered that she had appeared sporadically under the name Teri Summers. In any case, she resurfaced in New York in the 1980s and worked off and on in clubs for a number of years, but it wasn’t until she won the 1998 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition that she burst onto the scene again as a star.
That led to a much-appreciated new album and a lot of new fans, but unfortunately she didn’t have long to enjoy it. She was diagnosed with bladder cancer soon after, and died at age 65 in 2000. A sad ending to a mysteriously tumultuous life.