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'Hit Parade' Songtress Georgia Gibbs


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'Kiss of Fire' Singer Georgia Gibbs

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Georgia Gibbs

NEW YORK CITY, New York -- Georgia Gibbs, a versatile singer who starred on the popular show, "Your Hit Parade" and reached the top of the charts in the 1950s with covers of songs by black artists, died on Saturday, December 9 of complications from leukemia at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, according to family friend Leslie Gottlieb. She was 87.

Among her 15 Top 40 hits, mostly for Mercury Records, was the tango-based "Kiss of Fire," which went to No. 1 in 1952. But she is known historically -- and controversially -- as one of the whites who gained success in the 1950s covering rhythm and blues hits by black artists, sometimes upstaging the original versions with sanitized lyrics.

"Tweedle Dee," an adaptation of LaVern Baker's R&B hit, reached No. 2 in 1954, while "Dance With Me Henry," another R&B cover, reached No. 1 in 1955 with cleaned-up lyrics. The original, "Roll With Me, Henry" or "The Wallflower," was by Etta James as an "answer song" to the hit "Work With Me, Annie."

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Georgia Gibbs

"At that time you weren't allowed to say 'roll' because it was considered vulgar," James said in a 1987 Associated Press interview. "So when Georgia Gibbs did her version, she renamed it 'Dance With Me, Henry' and it went to No. 1 on the pop charts."

Besides a stint on "Your Hit Parade," the radio and TV show that showcased the most popular songs each week, Gibbs was a regular on programs hosted by Garry Moore, Jimmy Durante and Danny Kaye and was a frequent guest on other radio and early television variety shows

Other memorable Gibbs recordings included the novelty, "If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd've Baked a Cake" in the early 1950s, "Ballin' The Jack," "After You've Gone," "It Had To Be You" and "Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White." Her last Top 40 record, "The Hula Hoop Song," in 1958.

Gibbs, along with Pat Boone, Connie Francis and others, was profiled this year in the book "Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With '50s Pop Music," by music critic Karen Schoemer. In a review for The New York Times, singer Nellie McKay called the book's subjects "seven of the most neglected performers of the 20th century."

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Georgia Gibbs

Gibbs, born Freda Lipschitz in Worcester, Massachusetts, in August, 1919, began singing in Boston ballrooms as a teenager, using the name Gibbons, later becoming Georgia Gibbs. As her star rose, Moore began introducing her on the air as "Her Nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs," which became a popular phrase.

Although Gibbs was semiretired after 1960, her singing career spanned more than 60 years, "a remarkable and enduring talent, and very persistent," Gottlieb said. A highlight of Gibbs' life, Gottlieb said, was performing for Israeli soldiers in 1949, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which helped establish the Jewish state.

Gibbs is survived by a grandson, Sasha Gervasi; a brother, Robert Gibson and a niece, Patty Turk. Gibbs was preceded in death in 1992 by her husband, Frank Gervasi, an author and World War II correspondent for United Press. Sadly, they also lost a child. A memorial for Gibbs is planned in Manhattan on December 19.

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