Lillian Briggs, the Rockabilly Bombshell

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Introduction to Lillian Briggs

Lillian Briggs (1932-1998) was an American 50s music singer-turned businesswoman, one of the rare instances that women of her generation sang rockabilly and rock and roll during the time that the musical genre was still new. Briggs was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She displayed her musical talents as a singer and trombonist in Joy Cayler’s All-Girl Orchestra. Briggs was discovered by Alan Freed who then brought her to New York to perform on stage shows which he produced. Her gigs landed her a contract with Epic label, which later released Briggs’ debut single “I Want You to Be My Baby” in 1955. The single was a million-selling hit that year, and was given a gold disc. As a result of the single’s success Briggs became a frequent figure on television, appearing on variety shows including The Tonight Show (hosted then by Jack Paar), The Mike Douglas Show, The Steve Allen Show and American Bandstand. However, her success proved to be brief, with her later recording stints in Sunbeam, Paramount, Coral and Philips going nowhere. She quit show business in the 1970s when she moved to Miami Beach, Florida, later becoming a co-partner of a luxury resort Turnberry Isle. Briggs became a very wealthy socialite because of her business. Her yacht, Monkey Business, was the boat where 1988 Presidential candidate Gary Hart was seen and photographed with his mistress Donna Rice, sitting on the married aspirant’s lap. The scandal effectively finished Hart’s presidential ambitions. Briggs, a one-hit wonder turned successful businesswoman, died from lung cancer in 1998. She was 65.

 

Early life and career

American rock n’ roll performer and musician Lillian Briggs was born Lillian Biggs (without the “r”) on June 3, 1932 in Miami, Florida. Briggs grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania where she worked as a laundry truck driver in the early 1950’s. Aside from supporting herself, she was also financing the band she formed called The Downbeats. Her band was usually performing on live radio and events in their town.

Briggs later became a singer and trombonist of Joy Cayler’s All-Girl Orchestra in 1952. In 1954, she was discovered by celebrity manager/talent scout Jack Petrill after her impressive performance of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake Rattle and Roll” in New York City’s Arcadia Ballroom. She was launched as a solo recording artist Petrill, who now became her manager. Now with a handler, Briggs worked her way up to success; she worked round-the-clock embarking on numerous tour dates and performing in radio shows and nightclubs.

 

Briggs with her lone hit “I Want You to Be My Baby”

Later in 1954, Briggs signed a deal with Epic Records where she recorded the debut single “I Want You to Be My Baby.” Released in 1955, the single peaked at #18 on the pop chart and sold over one million copies. In the midst of her success, she was a frequent headliner in concerts worldwide. She also did television appearances such as The Mike Douglas Show, Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show, American Bandstand and The Steve Allen Show. In Briggs’ later musical career, she had several releases from different labels (Paramount, Coral and Phillips) and was still very much active on tour.

 

Briggs’ later career as a successful businesswoman, and final years

Briggs became a successful businesswoman when she moved Miami Beach, Florida in the early 1970’s. She affiliated with the company Turnberry Isle, a luxurious resort with condominium units. Briggs was considered as a socialite during that time; she owned a yacht and named it Monkey Business. The boat became a part of controversy where senator and Presidential candidate Gary Hart was photographed with his mistress, model Donna Rice, in 1988.

On April 11, 1998 in Miami, Briggs died of lung cancer. She was 65 years old.

 

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