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Terri studied at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in music and then went on to earn a Master's degree in music from the University of Southern California. At the beginning of the 1950s, she taught music and drama at the American School in Japan (Chōfu, Tokyo), then returned to America, where she ultimately taught music theory at Fullerton College (Fullerton, California) and directed a women's choir at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
A mezzo-soprano, gifted with a haunting voice filled with feeling and conviction, Terri became one of North America's finest singers.[neutrality is disputed] Her professional career began with appearances as a solo artist and arranger with the Roger Wagner Chorale on many recordings. In 1953, she performed with the group at the coronation celebration for Queen Elizabeth II in London. Her eclectic repertoire included religious music, love songs, folk tunes and ballads. In addition to her many LP’s with the Roger Wagner Chorale, she made several solo albums, staged a one-woman show, and sang in both film and television roles as well as doing the voice-over for the cow in the 1964 motion picture Mary Poppins. She also played the role of the stepmother in the cover album made from the Jerry Lewis film, Cinderfella, in 1960.
At the first Grammy Awards of 1959, Terri was nominated for Best Classical Vocal Performance. The album Duets with the Spanish Guitar, also featuring guitarist Laurindo Almeida and flutist Martin Ruderman, won the Grammy for Best Classical Engineered Recording. On this 1958 Capitol Records release, produced by Robert E Myers, referred to by many as a masterpiece, Terri sang the aria from Heitor Villa-Lobos composition, " Bachianas Brasileiras No.5" that the composer declared as the best recorded version of his work. The album, with additions from later recordings and renamed Duets with Spanish Guitar, was re-released in 1990 on a CD in the United States (USA), Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), Germany, and France, is still available at some Internet music sites, and still continues to sell well. A UK-based fan created a tribute site, www.salliterri.org, which has a complete discography, photos, and notes from fans as well as former friends and students.
Terri was married to composer John Biggs (b. 1932), with whom she had two daughters, Jennifer Walton and Adrienne Biggs, both violinists. In her later years, she suffered several strokes that left her partially incapacitated until her death at a convalescent home in Long Beach, California.
Solo Discography (LP) :
- I Know My Love (1961)
- Songs of the American Land (1960)
- At the Gate of Heaven (1960)
- Conversations with the Guitar (1960)
- Songs of Enchantment (1959)
- For My True Love (1959)
- Duets with the Spanish Guitar (1958)
Books and scores by Salli Terri :
- Rounds For Everyone From Everywhere (1961)
- Shaker Worship Service (1971)
- Around The Year In Rounds (1974)
- A Moravian Lovefeast (1978)