Georgia Gibbs

Singer of 'Kiss of Fire'
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The Independent Online

Fredda Lipschitz (Georgia Gibbs), singer: born Worcester, Massachusetts 17 August 1919; married 1960 Frank Gervasi (died 1990); died New York 9 December 2006.

Although Georgia Gibbs had several hit records during the 1950s, history has not been kind to her, with the feeling that she was exploiting black performers by recording their songs for the white market. After she had covered both "Tweedle Dee" and "Jim Dandy" by LaVern Baker, Baker sent Gibbs a life insurance policy naming her as the beneficiary in case something should end Baker's career.

Right to the end, Gibbs firmly defended herself. "It really gets my back up because every singer from that era did covers," she said.

Every single record that broke through in R&B was covered, yet of all of the singers, they hop on me because of "Tweedle Dee". I had never even heard the LaVern Baker record. I was just told that this is what I was going to record.

She was born Fredda Lipschitz into a Jewish-American family in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1919. Her father died when she was six months old and she was placed in an orphanage. Later, when the orphanage realised that she could sing, she became a key attraction at their variety concerts. Her mother reclaimed her when she was seven, but worked as a midwife and often left her at home alone. When her mother remarried, she became Fredda Gibson.

She was singing regularly in clubs from the age of 13 and she toured for two years with the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra, making her first record, "If We Never Meet Again", in 1938. In 1942 she was hired by Artie Shaw to sing "Absent Minded Moon" and "Not Mine" for $25 on record.

Settling on the name Georgia Gibbs, she joined Jimmy Durante's radio show Camel Caravan, where the host, Garry Moore, referred to her as "Her nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs", a pet name which stuck. She stayed with the show for four years and was also a supporting act for Danny Kaye for two years, coming to the UK with him and joining him for comedy routines. In 1950 she had success with a cover of Ellen Barton's "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake" and the following year she joined Mercury Records for her most successful period.

Her first big hit was "While You Danced, Danced, Danced (I Walked In With a Smile)" and then the passionate "Kiss of Fire", for which she was best known and which was based on a 1913 tango, "El Choclo", topped the US charts for several weeks during 1952. Gibbs had pop hits by covering Bonnie Lou's country success "Seven Lonely Days", then the UK singer David Whitfield's "The Bridge Of Sighs", followed by the mock-calypso "Somebody Bad Stole De Wedding Bell".

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters had a rhythm and blues hit with "Work With Me Annie", which was too risqué for the pop market, and it had been answered by Etta James's equally suggestive "Roll With Me Henry". Gibbs recorded the song as "Dance With Me Henry" and won a gold disc. She delivered a breathless performance of Jon Hendricks' "I Want You to Be My Baby" and covered LaVern Baker's "Jim Dandy" and "Tweedle Dee". To be fair, she sang the covers well and with feeling. The album Swingin' With Her Nibs (1956) showed her versatility and she came to the UK for successful appearances at the London Palladium.

She returned to the charts with a song about a passing fad, "The Hula Hoop Song", in 1958. In 1960, Gibbs married a foreign news reporter, Frank Gervasi, who was based in Italy. She spent six months of each year there and did relatively little singing. Her final album, Call Me, was released in 1966.

Spencer Leigh