Georgia Gibbs, a versatile singer who starred on radio and television’s popular “Hit Parade” in the 1950s, performed with the big bands of Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw and was perhaps best known for the song “Kiss of Fire,” has died. She was 87.
Gibbs died Saturday of complications from leukemia at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, according to family friend Leslie Gottlieb.
Gibbs, born Freda Lipschitz, in Worcester, Mass., in 1919, began singing in Boston ballrooms as a teenager, using the name Gibbons, and went on to a career that included novelty songs, pop, country and smoky ballads. She was one of the first white singers to cover rhythm and blues hits, sometimes substituting the original lyrics with sanitized versions.
She took the name Georgia Gibbs about 1942 and a few years later was dubbed “Her Nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs,” by radio and TV variety show host Garry Moore. The rhyming sobriquet stuck as a way of introducing her on the air.
In addition to her stint on “Hit Parade,” which showcased the most popular songs each week, Gibbs was a regular on programs presented by Moore, Jimmy Durante and comedian Danny Kaye, and was a frequent guest on the other radio and early television variety shows of Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Ed Wynn and Steve Allen. She was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow on “Person to Person.”
Given her versatility, Gibbs was well-suited for the post-World War II era of transition from radio to TV and from big-band music to R&B-influenced; pop and early rock ‘n’ roll.
Among her 15 top 40 hits, mostly for Mercury Records, were three gold records: the tango-based “Kiss of Fire,” which went to No. 1 on the pop charts in 1952; “Tweedle Dee,” a No. 2 R&B; adaptation in 1954; and “Dance With Me Henry,” another R&B; cover, which reached No. 1 in 1955 with cleaned-up lyrics.
She is survived by a grandson, Sasha Gervasi; a brother, Robert Gibson; and a niece, Patty Turk.
A memorial for Gibbs is planned at the Riverside Chapel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.