(August 17 1919
- December 9 2006
) was an American singer, most popular
in the 1950s.
Gibbs was born Frieda Lipschitz
in Worcester, Massachusetts
, the youngest of four children of Russian Jewish descent. Her father died when she was six months old, and she spent her first seven years in an orphanage
in Worcester, separated from her other siblings.
She revealed a natural talent for singing at a very young age, and was given the lead in the orphanage's yearly variety show. She was reunited with her mother (who had visited her once every other month) when the latter found employment as a midwife. However, her job often forced her to leave her daughter alone for weeks at a time with only a Philco radio for company.
Gibbs began her professional career at the age of thirteen, and was singing in Boston's Raymor Ballroom
the following year. She cut her first record with the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra
in 1936 (aged 16 or 17). "You don't really know loneliness unless you do a year or two with a one-night band
, Gibbs said of her life on the big band circuit, "sing until about 2 a.m. Get in a bus and drive 400 miles. Stop in the night for the greasy hamburger. Arrive in a town. Try to sleep. Get up and eat."
(Worcester Telegram & Gazette
, May 12 1994
She soon found steady work on popular radio shows including Your Hit Parade, Melody Puzzles and The Tim And Irene Show. Gibbs freelanced in the late 1930s and 1940s singing with the bands of Frankie Trumbauer, Hal Kemp, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. It was with Shaw's band (then billed as Fredda Gibson) that she scored her first hit, Absent Minded Moon (1942).
In 1943, she changed her name to Georgia Gibbs and began appearing on the popular Camel Caravan radio program, hosted by Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore. It was Moore who bestowed the famous nickname "Her Nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs" upon her; the nickname is a playful reference to her diminutive stature of barely over 5 feet. She was a regular performer on this show until 1947.
Gibbs signed with Majestic Records in 1946, and while she recorded many great records she would have to wait until 1950 for her first hit single, If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked A Cake (on the Coral label). During this period she also was the featured singer on tours with comedians Danny Kaye and Sid Caesar. Miss Gibbs had a natural talent for comedy as well, and worked well in support of the immensely popular Kaye. But success as a singer continued to elude her. As noted in a 1952 Time article:
"Georgia", they kept telling her, "you gotta get a sound." Musical soothsayers were trying to get Songstress Georgia Gibbs into line with the latest fashion. Perhaps, they thought, she should sing mechanized duets with herself (like Patti Page), or she might try an echo chamber background (like Peggy Lee). But gimmicks were not Georgia Gibbs's cup of tea. She had a big, old-fashioned voice, a good ear, a vivacious personality, and she knew how to sing from the shoulder. She would stick with plain Georgia Gibbs. 3 (From the Shoulder, Time, July 28, 1952.)
And she eventually had success "sticking with plain Georgia Gibbs". Possessed of a versatile voice, she cut a long list of great records in every category from torch songs to rock-and-roll, to jazz, swing, old fashioned ballads and cha-chas. Her most successful record was Kiss Of Fire which reached the #1 position on the pop music charts in 1952. Kiss of Fire was adapted from the Argentinian tango El Choclo and the lyrics, arrangement and delivery communicate passion on a Wagnerian scale. It immediately became one of the defining songs of the era. 4
Sultry and throbbing, with a touch of vibrato, Georgia Gibbs' voice is best showcased on romantic ballads and torch songs like Melancholy Baby, I'll Be Seeing You, Autumn Leaves and You Keep Coming Back Like A Song. Yet she could be equally thrilling belting out a red hot jazz numbers like Red Hot Mama and A-Razz-A-Ma-Tazz, or jiving with tunes like Ol Man Mose and Shoo Shoo Baby. Her Swingin' With Her Nibbs album (1956) demonstrated her natural affinity for improvisation as well. 5
Gibbs continued to be a frequent visitor to the charts throughout the first half of the decade (with over 40 charted songs), and was briefly successful doing rock 'n' roll songs as well. She appeared on many television shows throughout the decade, including the legendary Ed Sullivan show, and hosted one of her own, Georgia Gibbs And Her Million Record Show. She cut her final album,
Call Me, in 1966 and rarely performed after that.
She spent many years being best known for her cover versions of Etta James' The Wallflower (recorded by Gibbs with modified lyrics under the title Dance With Me Henry) and of LaVern Baker's Tweedle Dee (which created some ado due to Ms. Baker's vociferous complaints) and for her novelty number The Hula Hoop Song, which was her last hit, in 1958.
In the late 1950s she married world-renowned foreign correspondent and author Frank Gervasi. His books include To Whom Palestine?
, The Case for Israel
, The Real Rockefeller
and The Violent Decade
They had first met in Paris in the 1930s, but lost touch with one another for twelve years. The marriage lasted until his death in 1992; they had one child who predeceased Georgia.
However, in recent years, her reputation steadily grew -- partially due to the availability of her songs on CD
. In her recent book, Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With 50s Pop Music
music critic Karen Schoemer wrote: ''"What really turned me around, though, were her R&B covers ... Georgia was the rare fifties canary with a genuine flair for rock and roll ...
[b]y the time I was through listening ... I had a healthy new respect for Georgia, and a sense of indignation over her neglect by critics."
Georgia Gibbs died of leukemia on December 9 2006, aged 87, at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Survivors include a grandson and a brother.
- (1939) If It's Good (Then I Want It), (with Hal Kemp and his Orch.)
- (1940) The Laziest Gal In Town (as "Fredda Gibson"), (with Frankie Traumbauer and his Orch.)
- (1942) Absent Minded Moon (with Artie Shaw's Orch.)
- (1944) Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet (V Disc with Tommy Dorsey's Orch.)
- (1946) Feudin' And Fightin', Ballin' The Jack (Majestic), Is It Worth It?, (Orch. directed by Earle Hagen), Ol' Man Mose, Put Yourself In My Place Baby, Willow Road, You Keep Coming Back Like A Song
- (1947) Fool That I Am, How Are Things In Glocca Morra?, I Feel So Smootchie, Necessity, You Do (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser)
- (1948) The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else, The Things We Did Last Summer, Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
- (1950) A-Razz-A-Ma-Tazz, Ballin' The Jack (Coral), Cherry Stones (with Bob Crosby and The Mellomen, Orch. dir. by George Cates), Dream A Little Dream Of Me (with Bob Crosby and The Mellomen, Orch. dir. by George Cates), Get Out Those Old Records (with the Owen Bradley Sextet), I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine, I Was Dancing With Someone, I'll Get Myself A Choo Choo Train, I'll Know, A Little Bit Independent (with Bob Crosby), Looks Like A Cold Cold Winter, Red Hot Mama, Simple Melody (with Bob Crosby), Stay With The Happy People, Then I'll Be Happy
- (1951) Be Doggone Sure You Call, Be My Life's Companion (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White, Cry, Good Morning Mister Echo, Got Him Off My Hands, I Still Feel The Same About You, I Wish I Wish (with Glenn Osser and his Orch.), My Old Flame, The Oklahoma Polka (Orch. and Chorus directed by Glenn Osser), Once Upon A Nickel, Shoo Shoo Baby, Tom's Tune, What Does It Mean (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), (Ooh-oo, Ooh-oo, Ooh-oo) What You Do To Me (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), While We Danced, While We're Young, While You Danced Danced Danced
- (1952) Kiss Of Fire, A Lasting Thing, Make me Love You, A Moth And A Flame, My Favorite Song, The Photograph On The Piano, Sinner Or Saint, So Madly In Love, Winter's Here Again (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser)
- (1953) Autumn Leaves, The Bridge Of Sighs, For Me For Me, He's Funny That Way, Home Lovin' Man, How Long Has This Been Going On, I Love Paris, If I Had You, If You Take My Heart Away (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), I'll Always Be In Love With You, It Had To Be You, My Blue Heaven, Regret If You Can, Say It Isn't So, Seven Lonely Days, Somebody Loves Me, That's All, Thunder And Lightning (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), What Does It Mean To Be Lonely
- (1954) After You've Gone, All Alone, Baby Won't You Please Come Home?, Baubles Bangles and Beads, Every Road Must Have A Turning (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), How Did He Look, I'll Always Be Happy With You (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), I'll Be Seeing You (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser}, It's The Talk Of The Town, Love Me (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), Mambo Baby, The Man That Got Away, Melancholy Baby, More Than Ever (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), My Sin, Somebody Bad Stole De Wedding Bell, Tweedle Dee, Wait For Me Darling, What'll I Do, Whistle And I'll Dance, You're Wrong, All Wrong
- (1955) Blueberries (with Hugo Peretti and his Orch.), Come Rain or Come Shine, Dance With Me Henry, Goodbye To Rome (Arrivederci Roma), I Want You To Be My Baby, Kiss Me Another, Sweet And Gentle, 24 Hours A Day
- (1956) Comes Love, 'Deed I Do, Fool Of The Year (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), The Greatest Thing (with Hugo Peretti and his Orch.), Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe, Happiness Street, I Get A Kick Out Of You, I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good), Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love), Lonesome Road, Morning Noon And Night (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), On The Sunny Side Of The Street, One For My Baby, The One I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else), Pretty Pretty (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), Rock Right, Silent Lips (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), Tra La La (Orch. directed by Glenn Osser), Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away), You've Got To See Mama Ev'ry Night
- (1957) Fun Lovin' Baby, Great Balls of Fire, Hello Happiness Goodbye Blues, I Am A Heart A Heart A Heart, I Never Had The Blues, I'll Miss You, I'm Walking The Floor Over You (with Joe Reisman and his Orch. and Chorus), It's My Pleasure, The Sheik of Araby, Sugar Candy (with Joe Reisman and his Orch. and Chorus)
- (1958) The Hula Hoop Song, Keep In Touch, Way Way Down, You're Doin' it
- (1959) Better Loved You'll Never Be, Hamburgers Frankfurters And Potato Chips, Pretend, The Hucklebuck
- (1960) Do It Again, Fin Jan, Hush-A-Bye, In Other Words, Last Night When We Were Young, Loch Lomond, So In Love, Something's Gotta Give, Stay Here With Me, Tammy, Willow Tit Willow
- (1963) Arrivederci Roma (Epic), Ballin' The Jack (on the Epic label), Baubles Bangles And Beads (Epic), Candy Kisses, Dance With Me Henry (Epic), How About Me, I Will Follow You, Kansas City, Kiss Of Fire (Epic), Nine Girls Out Of Ten Girls, Nobody's Asking Questions, Sugar Puff, Tater Poon, Tweedle Dee (Epic), When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)
- (1965) Don't Cry Joe, I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way, In Time, Let Me Dream, You Can Never Get Away From Me
- (1966) Blue Grass, Call Me, Kiss Of Fire '66, Let Me Cry On Your Shoulder, Mon Coeur A Tant De Peine Laisse-Moi Pleurer, Northern Soul, Venice Blue
- The Ed Sullivan Show - scheduled guest - Oscar Hammerstein tribute: Della Reese; Jill Corey (1960)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - scheduled guest - scheduled: Red Buttons; Rowan & Martin (1960)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - scheduled guest - scheduled: Suzanne Pleshette; Tom Poston (1959)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - Herself - Carol Channing; Wayne & Shuster (1959)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - Herself - Fabian; John Wayne (on tape) (1959)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - scheduled guest - scheduled: Charlton Heston; Eartha Kitt (1959)
- The Garry Moore Show - Guest - December 2, 1958 (1958)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - scheduled guest - scheduled: Johnnie Ray; Jane Morgan; Ice Capades (1958)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - Herself - Everly Brothers; Sal Mineo; Teresa Brewer (1958)
- American Bandstand - Guest - December 18,1957 (1957)
- The Big Record - Herself - Patti Page (Host); Johnnie Ray; Errol Garner (1957)
- The Shower of Stars - guest star - Jack Benny; Yvonne De Carlo; Van Johnson (1957)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - Herself - Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps; Carol Burnett (1957)
- The Ed Sullivan Show - scheduled guest - The Sparkletones; Mills Brothers; Sammy Kaye (1957)
- The Shower of Stars - guest star - Frankie Laine; Gene Austin; Gary Crosby; Red Skelton (1956)
- Frankie Laine Time - Guest - Jack E. Leonard; Jerry Vale (1956)
- The Steve Allen Show - guest star - Fats Domino; Steve Lawrence; Smith and Dale (1956)
- Toast of the Town - guest star - 1956 Ice Capades (1955)
- Toast of the Town - Herself - scheduled: Eartha Kitt; Lionel Hampton; Phil Foster (1955)
- Toast of the Town - Herself - Errol Flynn; Paulette Goddard (1952)
- The Cavalcade of Stars - Herself - Jackie Gleason; Art Carney (1951)
- Four Star Revue - Herself - Ed Wynn; Eddie Cantor; Jack Carson; Jack Gilford; Bob Sweeney; Hal March; Spike Jones Orchestra (1951)
- The Ed Wynn Show - Herself - Ed Wynn; Buster Keaton; The Keystone Kops (1950)
- Toast of the Town - Herself - Bunny Briggs; Nancy Andrews (1949)
3 /* Time
, From The Shoulder
, July 28 1952
4 /*Top 50 Era-Defining Songs of the 1950s list. http://groups.google.com/group/rec.music.rock-pop-r+b.1950s/browse_thread/thread/c839cc82ba8b3d95/32c500d217415bce?lnk=st&q=%22kiss+of+fire%22+era-defining&rnum=1#32c500d217415bce/*
5 /*Review, So Hot It Sizzles!, Michael Pendragon, 2/14/2004. http://www.amazon.com/Red-Hot-Georgia-Gibbs/dp/B000093NNJ/ref=cm_cr-mr-title/105-3297145-0511658/*
6 Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair with 50s Pop Music, Karen Schoemer, Free Press, 2006