Frankie Ford, who died last week at 76, sure got a lot of mileage out of a one-million selling record. He was only 19 when—at a time when black artists got little air play on mainstream stations—he covered Huey (Piano) Smith’s composition, Sea Cruise.
It is one of those songs that has found its way into the repertoires of many artists and countless performances over the years. Sea Cruise laid the foundation for Mr. Ford’s successful show business career that spanned more than half a century. Those who remember the movie American Hot Wax will recall Mr. Ford’s performance as a highlight.
Sea Cruise peaked at number 11, but its legacy is far greater than most number 1’s.
Yes, he had only one huge hit, but he was a fine singer, a fantastic piano player and a marvellous entertainer. He considered his flamboyance “a marriage” of sorts between the styles of Liberace and Little Richard.
I feel privileged that I saw him just a couple of years ago at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, Connecticut. It was apparent that he was quite ill, and he could hardly walk. When he was announced, I was not alone when I feared he would tumble over before he reached his piano. He sat down slowly—very slowly— and settled himself.
But when he played the opening riff of Sea Cruise applause rocked the building, and the years and the infirmity disappeared. It was unforgettable.
Now Sea Cruise has reached its final port, but I remain grateful to Frankie Ford for sharing his talent and his incredible flair with so many for so many years. Watch the clip above, and you will see what I mean. Mr. Ford had quite a journey, but now he is safe at home.