Frankie Ford, a rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues singer whose 1959 hit "Sea Cruise" brought him international fame when he was 19, has died at the age of 76.
Ford died Monday of natural causes, according to the coroner’s office in Jefferson Parish, La.
"He had the best voice in rock and roll," said Mike Shepherd, a friend of Ford's and head of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, which inducted Ford in 2010.
In addition to "Sea Cruise," Ford's hits included "Roberta," ''Time After Time" and "You Talk Too Much." His version of "You Talk Too Much" aired while Joe Jones' recording of the song was tied up in court. Jones' recording eventually reached No. 3, while none of Ford's after "Sea Cruise" made it higher than 72, the mark set by "Seventeen" in 1961.
Shepherd said Ford had been ill and unable to walk since he was hit by a car in Memphis several years ago.
Born Aug. 4, 1939, in Gretna, La., he was named Vincent Francis Guzzo by his adoptive parents.
Ford began singing as a child and his parents brought him to New York when he was 5 to perform on the "Ted Mack Amateur Hour." His stage name was suggested, in a nod to hot rods, by Ace Records owner Johnny Vincent, according to his biography on the hall of fame website.
Shepherd said Ford was asked in the late 1950s to cover songs by local black musicians in New Orleans whose records got limited airtime because of racial discrimination.
"All the music was coming from New Orleans, yet people like Pat Boone were covering people like Little Richard and Fats Domino and getting hits. It was a black-white thing," Shepherd said.
"The producers understood the point: This is our music, this is Louisiana's music, yet we're letting them take it out of here and making a fortune with — I've got to say it — white guys," Shepherd said.
Shepherd said he last saw Ford a couple of months ago when he visited to get items for the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame museum.
He said Ford, no longer able to walk, told him, "Son, you go up and take whatever you want, because I'm never wearing any of it again."
His choices included a sequined jacket — dark red except for a piano keyboard in cream and black sequins.
He said Ford "put one hand on the sleeve of the jacket ... and he said, 'My mama made this for me.'"