The Story and Music of Georgia Gibbs


Introduction to Georgia Gibbs

Georgia Gibbs (born Frieda Lipschitz in 1919) was an 50s music era singer who had earned a distinction for her vocal versatility and especially notoriety for covering black music for the white audience. She had been already singing professionally in Boston when she was still just in her teens under the name of Fredda Gibson. She had worked with many of the big bands at that time, led by Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Hal Kemp, and Frank Trumbauer. She made her first recording in the late 1930s, and in 1943 she changed her stage name again to Georgia Gibbs, and began singing on radio shows such as Camel Caravan. It took her long before she achieved her first real hit “(If I Knew You Were Comin’) I’d’ve Baked a Cake.” Refusing to be just another songstress in the mold of Peggy Lee or Patti Page, Gibbs determinedly went on with her versatility as a singer – she could sing ballads, jazz, cha-cha, R&B, pop and even rock and roll. While that definitely set her apart from her contemporaries, that very versatility otherwise prevented Gibbs from being a major success outside of radio and TV shows. Her biggest hits included “(If I Knew You Were Comin’) I’d’ve Baked a Cake,” “Tom’s Tune,” “Good Morning Mister,” “While You Danced, Danced, Danced,” “Cry,” “Kiss Of Fire” (her first #1 hit), “So Madly In Love,” “My Favorite Song,” “Seven Lonely Days,” “Somebody Bad Stole De Wedding,” “Tweedle Dee,” “Dance with Me Henry” (her last #1 hit), “Sweet and Gentle,” “I Want You To Be My Baby,” “Happiness Street,” “Tra La La” and other minor charters. Her more pop-oriented covers of previous R&B hits such as Etta James’ “The Wallflower” – renamed as “Dance with Me Henry” – and LaVern Baker’s “Tweedle Dee” gained her some notoriety, especially when “Tweedle Dee” outsold the original version. Gibbs wasn’t entirely to be blamed because, like many other singers in her time, she had no say in regards to the song selections. However, Gibbs’ covers earned enough criticism for having stolen the gutsy quality of the original songs and even a complaint by Baker. Her chart performance started to dip and she had her last charting single in the mid-1960s with “Let Me Dream.” After this, she continued to perform although she was considerably less active as before. She died of leukemia in 2006, aged 87.

Early years

The late American singer Georgia Gibbs pretty much dominated the 50s music scene with her hit records such as “If I Knew You Were Comin’ (I’d’ve Baked a Cake),” “Tweedle Dee” and “Kiss of Fire.” The brassy-voiced Gibbs was born Frieda Lipschitz on August 17, 1919 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Along with the four siblings, the youngest six-month old Frieda was placed in an orphanage after their father died. The following years, Frieda was reclaimed by her mother when she was 7 years old but often leaves Freida for her job as a midwife.

Music Career

Frieda left the orphanage when she was 13 years old. To support her family, she began performing in clubs and later tried her luck at the Plymouth, a prime vaudeville house located in Boston where she was immediately hired. From there, the 17-year old Frieda had her early recordings with the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra whom she toured with for two years. She was also hired by composer Artie Shaw to sing “Absent Minded Moon” and “Not Mine” in 1942. During that time, her name was changed to Fredda Gibson for her mother got married for the second time.

After working on several radio shows and bands, Frieda joined Jimmy Durante and Gary Moore’s radio show, Camel Caravan in 1943. It was also in that year when she settled with the name Georgia Gibbs, a pet name given by host Gary Moore who said, “Her nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs!” This name made Gibbs widely known during her years in the business. Gibbs stayed on the Camel Caravan for four years.

In 1946, Gibbs signed a record contract with Majestic Records where she had her first solo success with “(If I Knew You Were Comin’) I’d’ve Baked a Cake.” Her cover of Ellen Barton’s original was released in 1950 and reached at #5 on the US charts. The next year, she moved to Mercury Records and started to establish herself as a solo artist. The song “While You Danced, Danced, Danced” was her first big hit for the label, peaking at #6 on the charts and followed by the more successful “Kiss of Fire” which was a chart-topper for several weeks during 1952. Gibbs also released a Bonnie Lou cover of “Seven Lonely Days” which made at #5 in 1954.

Gibbs started to perform cover versions of black music which she was later known for. It also gave her notoriety during in the mid 1950’s. In 1955 she released the LaVern Baker original, “Tweedle Dee” which peaked at #2 on the US chart and even outsold LaVern version’s sales which raised many critics’ eyebrows. It was soon followed by “Dance with Me Henry.” Previously recorded by Etta James as “Wallflower,” “Dance with Me Henry” soared to #1 later in the same year. It was also Gibbs’ last #1 hit. The single sold more than a million copies. She continued to release several singles in the following years which most of them did moderately well on the charts.

In the 1960’s, Gibbs married Frank Gervasi, a foreign news reporter based in Italy. She decided to record less after her marriage and slowly retired from the business. In 1966, she issued her final album Call Me.

At the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York where she underwent leukemia treatment, the 87-year old Gibbs died of pneumonia on December 9, 2006.


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