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American Routes Shortcuts: Frankie Ford

Frankie Ford
Frankie Ford

We went to visit with the late Frankie Ford at his house across the river from New Orleans in Gretna, Louisiana back when. Frankie gave us a tour of memorabilia from a lifetime in music. On a wall of promo pictures, his hairdo goes from slicked down teen to fluffy Sicilian ‘fro. Frankie started singing at age six and opened for Sophie Tucker and Carmen Miranda when they played the Crescent City.

Frankie Ford: I was at the Girl Scout hut on a Friday night at a dance, and we got a call from my mother. “You gotta get home, I’m coming to pick you up right away. I’m packing your clothes, we have to be in New York by Monday.” And so we drove, my mother, my father, my uncle and me. It was an experience, and it was almost surreal.


Nick Spitzer: You were born Frank–

FF: Guzzo. 

NS: Which is a Sicilian name?
FF: Italian.

NS: Italian name. Why did you change the name?

FF: Well I didn’t, Joe Caronna changed my name. He said they’ll never spell it wrong. And then we were at the Chicago Theater, and the Chicago Tribune put it “Frankie Dorf.” They put it backwards.


NS: You became, I guess, most widely known for “Sea Cruise.”

FF: Yes.

NS: Tell me the story of how “Sea Cruise” came about, in terms of you being the lead singer.

FF: Well, I recorded my first record, “Cheatin’ Woman,” and–

NS: Back in 1958 I think.

FF: ’58. “Cheatin’ Woman” became a hit in the Black community. And then, I went up to do ten days at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. And when I walked in, I sat down, and then he said, “Frankie Ford to rehearse.” It was Doc Bagby and his orchestra. Two drummers. And so he said, “Oh my God, you’re white.” I said, “Let me go on.” And it was great.


NS: So you get back to New Orleans.

FF: Got back to New Orleans, they called me, and they said, “Get down to the studio tonight.” And there was a song called “Roberta,” which I recorded with the Clowns singing behind me.

NS: And that’s Huey “Piano” Smith’s band really.

FF: Right. And then we did “Sea Cruise.” And everybody was saying “Roberta” is the hit

NS: And “Roberta” is a great song. 

FF: Yes, I begged them not to put them out on the same record.

NS: But then there’s “Sea Cruise,” which is what really takes you to national, really international fame. 

FF: And the thing about that, the sound effects, that is not a boat horn or a boat bell. They’re harbor sounds.

NS: From New Orleans?

FF: Well, we went to the library and got them. And we sped it up.


To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.