The Soundtrack For The Baby Boomer Generation

Step back to a time when singers were as bright as the stars in the heavens
and the music they sang was really swingin'. Stacks of wax to fit every occasion!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Her Nibbs, Miss Gibbs

Artist: Georgia Gibbs
Song: Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe (b-side) (a-side is Happiness Street)
Label: Mercury 70920X45
Number: YW13032
Songwriters: Arlen - Harburg
Time: 2:43
Released: July 12th, 1956

Today's artist is the epitomy of what Music For Every Mood is all about. Trust me, you're going to want this one for sure! Georgia Gibbs was a singer who was known historically - and controversially - as one of the whites who gained success in the 1950's covering rhythm and blues hits by black artists. Sometimes, her versions, which included sanitized lyrics, even upstaged the originals. 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.
Georgia Gibbs was born Frieda Lipschitz, in Worcester, Massachusetts on August 17th, 1919. 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 began her professional career at the age of thirteen, and was singing in Boston's Raymor Ballroom the following year. She soon found steady work on radio and began freelancing with big bands such as 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). Her most successful record was Kiss Of Fire which reached the #1 position on the pop music charts in 1952. Other notable songs included Melancholy Baby, I'll Be Seeing You, Autumn Leaves, You Keep Coming Back Like A Song, Red Hot Mama, A-Razz-A-Ma-Tazz, Ol' Man Mose and Shoo Shoo Baby. Covers of Dance With Me, Henry and Tweedle Dee saw her popularity rise to new heights in the mid-1950's, only to fade toward the end of the decade when she had her final hit with the novelty number The Hula Hoop Song, in 1958. She cut her final album, Call Me, in 1966 and rarely performed after that. Georgia Gibbs died of leukemia on December 9th, 2006, aged 87, at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Despite all the different song genres she employed throughout her career, I think today's record defines her sound the best. Singing the classic 1940 pop song Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe, written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, she seems well at ease with herself, her talents and her voice. The subdued arrangement by Glenn Osser smolders in the background while she is allowed to shine vocally front and center. If one only heard this solitary record of hers, they would believe she deserved a place in the pantheon of great torch singers. But, in reality, she excelled at singing Popular music, R&B, Rock and Roll and Big Band Swing just as easily. Some night when the rain is pouring down outside and you're all alone with that special someone, make sure your fireplace is crackling warm and low, snuggle up with a light wine and listen to Georgia Gibbs singing Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe. It's moments like these you'll treasure forever.

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