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A Singer in Every Category

Lawrence Bush
August 16, 2017

Georgia Gibbs (Frieda Lipschitz), a tremendously versatile singer who found steady work on radio and vaudeville stages in the 1940s and in the recording studio and television studios in the 1950s and ’60s, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on this date in 1919. She landed her first singing gig at age 13, and was a vocalist with the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Hal Kemp, Artie Shaw, and Frankie Trumbauer in the late 1930s and the 1940s. “Like many white singers of the period,” writes Margalit Fox in the New York Times, “Ms. Gibbs, who recorded her biggest hits for the Mercury label, was known in particular for her covers, often with bowdlerized lyrics, of R&B songs by black artists. She was also known for her versatility; her repertory included tangos . . . as well as torch songs, jazz, rock and novelty numbers.” It is said that LaVern Baker once took out a flight insurance policy and named Gibbs as the beneficiary, writing to her, “You need this more than I do, because if anything happens to me, you’re out of business.” Commenting on criticism that she “whitewashed” black songs, Gibbs protested that she had no real say in her choice of material and arrangements. Gibbs recorded three singles that sold more than a million copies each. She died at 87 in 2006. To see her singing a medley of these hits, look below.

She “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.” --Los Angeles Times

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.