Frankie Ford, a singer whose hit record “Sea Cruise” brought him international fame when he was 19, died on Monday in Gretna, La., near New Orleans. He was 76.
The coroner’s office in Jefferson Parish, La., confirmed his death, but did not specify a cause.
Mike Shepherd, executive director of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, which inducted Mr. Ford in 2010, said that Mr. Ford had been ill for some time and unable to walk since he was hit by a car in Memphis several years ago.
“Sea Cruise,” which combined a bouncy, hard-charging rhythm with simple, upbeat lyrics (“Be my guest, you got nothin’ to lose/Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?”), reached No. 14 on Billboard magazine’s pop singles chart and No. 11 on the rhythm-and-blues list in 1959. It was Mr. Ford’s only Top 40 single.
The song was written by the New Orleans R&B pianist Huey Smith and originally recorded (but not released) by Mr. Smith and his group the Clowns.
Mr. Ford was among the white Louisiana artists brought to Cosimo Matassa’s New Orleans studio to cover songs by local black musicians, whose records were receiving limited airtime because of racial discrimination. Ace Records, which was Mr. Smith’s label as well as Mr. Ford’s, had Mr. Ford record a new vocal over the Smith band’s backing track.
“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,” Mr. Shepherd said. “It was a black-white thing.”
Mr. Ford’s recording of “Sea Cruise” went on to sell more than a million copies. The song has since been recorded by the Beach Boys, Herman’s Hermits and John Fogerty, among many other artists. It can also be heard on the soundtrack of “American Graffiti” and other movies.
Born on Aug. 4, 1939, in Gretna, Francis Guzzo began singing at an early age and was brought to New York by his parents, Vincent and Anna Guzzo, when he was 5 to perform on Ted Mack’s radio show, “The Original Amateur Hour.”
His recording career began in 1958. According to his biography on the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame’s website, his professional name was suggested by Johnny Vincent, the owner of Ace Records, to capitalize on “teenagers’ obsession with hot-rod cars.”
Although he had no hit records after the early 1960s, Mr. Ford remained part of the New Orleans music scene. His last performance was at the 2013 Gretna Heritage Festival.
Mr. Shepherd said he last saw Mr. Ford a few months ago when he visited him to get items, including a sequined jacket, for the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame’s museum.
He said that Mr. 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.”
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