Georgia Gibbs (August 17, 1919 - December 9, 2006) was an American singer, most popular in the 1950s. Gibbs has been unfairly maligned by rock critics for building her career in the '50s by covering R&B hits of LaVern Baker and Etta James. In reality she was a genuinely talented pop vocalist, whose jazz-tinged approach reflected years of experience in the big band era, a period when there was no stigma attached to covers.
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. She soon found steady work on popular radio shows including Your Hit Parade, Melody Puzzles and TheTim 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.
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 she performed on the Milton Berle Show in the spring of 1952. The song reached the #1 position on the pop music charts by May 31 of the same year.
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, who was based in Italy. She spent six months of each year there and did relatively little singing. The marriage lasted until his death in 1992; they had one child who predeceased Georgia. Gibbs’ later years were spent working with her lawyer, Mark Sendroff successfully collecting royalty payments owed to her from reissues of her master recordings.
Georgia Gibbs died of leukaemia on December 9, 2006, aged 87, at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. Survivors include a grandson, Sacha Gervasi, and a brother. (Info mainly edited from Wikipedia)