"You don't really know loneliness unless you do a year or two with a one-night band, Gibbs said of her life on the big band circuit. sing until about 2 a.m. Get in a bus and drive 400 miles. Stop in the night for the greasy hamburger.
Arrive in a town. Try to sleep. Get up and eat." (Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 12, 1994.) She soon found steady work on popular radio shows including Your Hit Parade, Melody Puzzles and The Tim 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. As noted in a 1952 Time article: "Georgia," they kept telling her, "you gotta get a sound." Musical soothsayers were trying to get Songstress Georgia Gibbs into line with the latest fashion. Perhaps, they thought, she should sing mechanized duets with herself (like Patti Page), or she might try an echo chamber background (like Peggy Lee).
But gimmicks were not Georgia Gibbs's cup of tea. She had a big, old-fashioned voice, a good ear, a vivacious personality, and she knew how to sing from the shoulder. She would stick with plain Georgia Gibbs. And she eventually had success "sticking with plain Georgia Gibbs". 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 reached the #1 position on the pop music charts in 1952. Kiss of Fire was adapted from the Argentinian tango El Choclo and the lyrics, arrangement and delivery communicate passion on a Wagnerian scale. It immediately became one of the defining songs of the era. Sultry and throbbing, with a touch of vibrato, Georgia Gibbs' voice is best showcased on romantic ballads and torch songs like Melancholy Baby, I'll Be Seeing You, Autumn Leaves and You Keep Coming Back Like A Song. Yet she could be equally thrilling belting out a red hot jazz numbers like Red Hot Mama and A-Razz-A-Ma-Tazz, or jiving with tunes like Ol Man Mose and Shoo Shoo Baby.
Her Swingin' With Her Nibbs album (1956) demonstrated her natural affinity for improvisation as well. 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 (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. Georgia Gibbs died of leukemia on December 9, 2006, aged 87, at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
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