Theresa Veronica Breuer was born in Toledo, Ohio, the eldest of five siblings. Her father was a glass inspector for the Libbey Owens Company (now part of Pilkington Glass), and her mother was a housewife.
When she was two years old, her mother entered her into an audition for a radio program, Uncle August's Kiddie Show on Toledo's WSPD. She performed for cookies and cupcakes donated by the sponsor. Although she never took singing lessons, she took tap dancing lessons. From age five to twelve, she sang and danced on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, then a popular touring radio show. Her aunt Mary traveled with Theresa until 1949, when Theresa wed William Monahan.
At the age of 12, Brewer returned to Toledo and ceased touring in order to have a normal school life. She continued to perform on local radio. In January 1948, the 16-year-old won a local competition, and (with three other winners) was sent to New York to appear on a talent show called Stairway to the Stars, featuring Eddie Dowling. It was at about that time that she changed the spelling of her name from Theresa Breuer to Teresa Brewer. She won a number of talent shows and played night clubs in New York (including the Latin Quarter).
Teresa married William "Bill" Monahan in 1949; the couple had four daughters, Kathleen, Susan, Megan and Michelle. They eventually separated, and the marriage was dissolved in 1972 shortly before she married Bob Thiele.
An agent, Richie Lisella, heard her sing and took her career in hand, and soon she was signed to a contract with London Records. In 1949 she recorded the song Copenhagen (a jazz perennial) with the Dixieland All-Stars. For the B side she recorded the song "Music! Music! Music!". Unexpectedly, it was not the A side but the B side which took off, selling over a million copies and becoming Teresa's signature song. Another novelty song, "Choo'n Gum", hit the top 20 in 1950, followed by "Molasses, Molasses". Although she preferred to sing ballads, her only recorded ballad to make the charts was "Longing for You" in 1951.
In 1951 Brewer switched labels, going to Coral Records. Since she never learned to read music, she had demos sent to her to learn the melodies of the songs she would record. Despite her lack of formal training, she had a number of hits for Coral. In 1952, she also recorded "You'll Never Get Away" in a duet with Don Cornell, followed in 1953 by her best selling hit, "Till I Waltz Again with You". In the mid-1950s she did a number of covers of rhythm and blues songs like "Pledging My Love" and "Tweedle Dee". She covered some country songs like "Jilted", "I Gotta Go Get My Baby", and "Let Me Go, Lover!". In 1956 she co-wrote "I Love Mickey", about New York Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle, who appeared on the record with Brewer. It was also reported that the two had developed a mutual attraction. Another 1956 hit was Brewer's syncopated rendition of "Mutual Admiration Society". In the same year her hit "A Sweet Old-Fashioned Girl" demonstrated in one song her ballad and rock talents. In 1957 she recorded more covers: of country song "Teardrops in My Heart" and R&B songs "You Send Me" and "Empty Arms".
In 1960, she had another hit with a cover of the standard "Have You Ever Been Lonely?". Her final charted recording was "Milord" in 1961, an English language version of a song by Édith Piaf. In 1962 she switched labels again, to Philips Records, where she recorded many singles and albums over a five-year period, including Gold Country in 1966. In addition to having her record new and contemporary material, Philips put Brewer in the studio to re-record her earlier material with new arrangements, instrumentation and recording equipment: the resulting album (PHM 200-062) was issued as Teresa Brewer's Greatest Hits. After leaving Philips, Brewer made a few recordings for other companies, but with no more big chart hits. In the 1970s she released a few albums on Flying Dutchman Records owned by her second husband, jazz producer Bob Thiele, including Teresa Brewer In London, which she recorded with cockney pop rock duo Chas & Dave under the pseudonym 'Oily Rags'. In 1975 she released an album Unliberated Woman produced by Elvis Presley's producer Felton Jarvis. One of the tracks is "For the Heart" written by Dennis Linde. Brewer also guest starred on The Muppet Show in 1977, in episode 22 of season 2.
She appeared as Pat Edmonds in the 1953 film musical Those Redheads from Seattle – she was a natural redhead herself. Her song from the film, "Baby Baby Baby" was successful as a single. She appeared on television as a guest star on such television shows as The Muppet Show and Sha Na Na. In 1968, Brewer sang the Star Spangled Banner at the 1968 MLB All Star Game. She released "Danny's Song" (written by Kenny Loggins) in 1972 (album, Singin' a Doo Dah Song), in 1975 (album, Teresa Brewer – Her Greatest Hits), in 1986 (album, Portrait) and, again in 1991 (album, Sixteen Most Requested Songs)
Brewer re-emerged as a jazz vocalist on Thiele's Amsterdam label in the 1980s and 1990s recording a number of albums including tribute albums to Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Irving Berlin. She also recorded with such jazz greats as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Svend Asmussen and Bobby Hackett. A landmark recording in her career was Softly I Swing (Red Baron Records, 1992) which was produced by Thiele and featured David Murray, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron and Grady Tate. "Memories of Louis", also recorded for Thiele's Red Baron Records, features a number of great trumpeters including Clark Terry, Nicholas Payton, Ruby Braff, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Sweets Edison, Lew Soloff, Terence Blanchard Yank Lawson, Red Rodney and Dizzy Gillespie.
In Australia, Brewer had a later string of hits starting with "Ballad of Lovers Hill' in February 1963 which reached number 4. Other tracks followed such as "Like I Do" from March 1963 which went to number 27. "Second Hand Rose" of September 1963 reached number 3. "Come On In" did not fare as well reaching No. 46. Her 1970s rock version of "Music! Music! Music!" reached No. 24 in 1973.
Her record-producer husband died in 1996, and Brewer never recorded after that. All together, she had recorded nearly 600 song titles. For her contribution to the recording industry, Teresa Brewer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1708 Vine Street. In 2007, she was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
Brewer died of a neuromuscular disease, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), at her home on Pinebrook Boulevard in New Rochelle, New York, aged 76.
One of Elvis Presley's first public singing experiences in 12th grade was performing a song of Brewer's: "Till I Waltz Again With You".