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1998 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition

When the smoke cleared and the judges had made a most difficult decision, it was 64 year old Teri Thornton who emerged victorious. The Detroit native had captured first place in the 1998 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. Along with this distinction came a $20,000 prize. In second place was 20 year old Jane Monheit from New York and third place went to Roberta Gambarini from Italy. They were awarded $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.

From a field of well over 200 applicants, 15 vocalists reached the semi-finals and performed at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. the last week of September. The judges, Nnenna Freelon, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall, and Joe Williams, narrowed this field to five. These singers competed at the finals the next evening at the Smithsonian Institute's Biard Auditorium also in D.C. The contestants were backed up by an impressive rhythm section consisting of Norman Simmons on piano, Michael Bowie on bass, and Grady Tate on drums.

Thornton, a veteran in the business, had not recorded an album in over 30 years. The singer, songwriter, and pianist has performed with Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, and Clark Terry to name a few. Before her performance at the finals, Thornton dedicated her 12 minute set to legendary singer and renowned jazz educator Betty Carter, who was hospitalized with pancreatic cancer. Thornton herself was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1997. In 1998 Teri had beaten her cancer, but one day after offering up a prayer for her revered friend, Betty Carter passed away at her home in Brooklyn.

In previous years an age limit of 33 was imposed on the competitors in order to show case new talent. But as Executive Producer of the competition, Shelby Fisher pointed out after receiving numerous complaints, "singers often take longer to mature than other instrumentalists." Thus the age limit was lifted. This was noted as being one of the best Monk competitions in years (the instrument changes annually as last year the competition was for trumpet). Nnenna Freelon echoed that and was quoted as saying "This was a good crop. I don't think jazz singing is leaving us anytime soon."

As part of this great weekend of jazz, a gala entitled "An Evening of Ellington & Gershwin", hosted by Bill Cosby, was held at the Vice President's residence on September 27th. An awesome line up of artists included Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, Dianne Reeves, Clark Terry, Patrice Rushen, Eric Reed, Jimmy Heath, Arturo Sandoval, Grover Washington, Jr., Kathleen Battle and Aretha Franklin. The photographs following Teri Thornton's and the finalists are from a rehearsal at the Kennedy Center the day before the gala, and from the gala itself, except for the photo taken at the Watergate Hotel.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Teri and Jane Monheit Thornton
  • Subtitle: Teri Thornton - A Winner In More Ways Than One
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