Gibbs had 15 top 40 hits including 'Kiss of Fire'

Georgia Gibbs, singer who starred on “Your Hit Parade” and reached the top of the charts in the 1950s with covers of songs by black artists, died Dec. 9 in New York of complications from leukemia. She was 87.

Among her 15 Top 40 hits, mostly for Mercury Records, was the tango-based “Kiss of Fire,” which went to No. 1 in 1952.

But she is known historically — and controversially — as one of the whites who gained success in the 1950s covering rhythm and blues hits by black artists, sometimes upstaging the original versions with sanitized lyrics.

“Tweedle Dee,” an adaptation of LaVern Baker’s R&B hit, reached No. 2 in 1954, while “Dance With Me Henry,” another R&B cover, reached No. 1 in 1955 with cleaned-up lyrics.

The original, “Roll With Me, Henry” or “The Wallflower,” was by Etta James as an “answer song” to the hit “Work With Me, Annie.”

“At that time you weren’t allowed to say ‘roll’ because it was considered vulgar,” James said in a 1987 Associated Press interview. “So when Georgia Gibbs did her version, she renamed it ‘Dance With Me, Henry’ and it went to No. 1 on the pop charts.”

Besides a stint on “Your Hit Parade,” the radio and TV show that showcased the most popular songs each week, Gibbs was a regular on programs hosted by Garry Moore, Jimmy Durante and Danny Kaye and was a frequent guest on other radio and early television variety shows

Other memorable Gibbs recordings included the novelty “If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d’ve Baked a Cake” in the early 1950s, and her last Top 40 record, “The Hula Hoop Song,” in 1958.

Gibbs, born Freda Lipschitz in Worcester, Mass., began singing in Boston ballrooms as a teenager, using the name Gibbons, later becoming Georgia Gibbs. As her star rose, Moore began introducing her on the air as “Her Nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs,” which became a popular phrase.

Although Gibbs was semiretired after 1960, her singing career spanned more than 60 years.

Survivors include a grandson and a brother.

— Associated Press

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