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Oscar James Gibson
Bobby Marchan
December 5, 1999
Age 69
 
 Cause of Death? 
 
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Bobby Marchan, 69, noted N.O. R&B artist 

By Jeff Hannusch  
Contributing writer/The Times-Picayune 

    Bobby Marchan, one of New Orleans' most colorful rhythm and blues artists,  
    died Dec. 5 after a lengthy illness. Mr. Marchan, whose given name was Oscar  
    James Gibson, was 69. 

    Mr. Marchan's biggest hit, "There Is Something on Your Mind," was a No. 1  
    rhythm and blues single in 1960. As a member of Huey Smith and the Clowns, he  
    sang on the hits "Don't You Just Know It," "You Don't Know Yockomo," and  
    "Havin' A Good Time." 

    "Bobby was just a character -- he would do anything," said singer Frankie  
    Ford, who imitated Mr. Marchan's vocal style early in his own career and  
    scored a hit with the Huey Smith song "Sea Cruise." "I learned from him. He  
    always looked like he was having fun, like Fats Domino and Frogman Henry." 

    Mr. Marchan was born in Youngstown, Ohio, where as an adolescent he became  
    fascinated by female impersonators who performed in local theaters. He began  
    appearing in drag as a comedian and singer. In 1953, Mr. Marchan organized a  
    troupe of female impersonators called "The Powder Box Revue" that was booked  
    at New Orleans' Dew Drop Inn for several weeks. Finding the city's relaxed  
    temperament to his liking, not to mention the ample opportunities to work as  
    an entertainer, Marchan relocated, renting a room above the Dew Drop. 

    In 1954, Marchan became the master of ceremonies at Club Tiajuana, where he  
    was discovered by Aladdin Records' Eddie Mesner, who was impressed by  
    Marchan's sophisticated blues style. He later recorded for Dot before  
    beginning a long and successful association with Ace Records. 

    "I was working at the Club Tiajuana in 1956, when Huey Smith brought in (Ace  
    Records') Johnny Vincent," Marchan said in 1998. "I was a singer, emcee and  
    female impersonator. (Vincent) thought I was a woman. 

    "Johnny said he liked my singing and wanted to record me. He gave me $200 and  
    I signed his contract. A couple of days later we got to Cosimo Matassa's  
    (studio) and Johnny still thought I was a  woman because I was dressed in drag.  
    Huey and everybody else was cracking up because Johnny was treating me and  
    talking to me like I was a woman. Finally, Huey told Johnny I was a man and  
    he just about fell on the floor from a heart attack." 

    Mr. Marchan's first taste of success was in 1956 with the release of "Chickee  
    Wah-Wah," which was a regional hit. He and Smith joined forces in 1957 to  
    form The Clowns. As Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns, they recorded some of  
    New Orleans' most memorable rock and roll. 

    "I was the group's boss," Mr. Marchan said. "When we first went on the road,  
    Huey went with us, but after a few months he stayed home and concentrated on  
    writing and doing sessions. I hired (pianist) James Booker to take his place  
    because he sounded like Huey." 

    After Mr. Marchan left Ace and The Clowns, he went back on the road as a  
    female impersonator. Eventually he contacted Fire Records' Bobby Robinson  
    about recording the Big Jay McNeely song "There Is Something on Your Mind."  
    Mr. Marchan's version hit No. 1 on the R&B charts. 

    Mr. Marchan continued to cut R&B records for Fire, but they didn't chart. In  
    1963, Otis Redding recommended him to Jim Stewart at Stax/Volt and Mr.  
    Marchan began making the transition to contemporary soul. He later cut the  
    original version of "Get Down With It," a hit for the British glam-rockers  
    Slade in the 1970s. 

    By the mid-1970s, Mr. Marchan was living in Pensacola, Fla., and barnstorming  
    the South again as a female impersonator-bandleader. In 1977, he returned to  
    New Orleans as emcee at Prout's Club Alhambra. 

    In the 1980s, Mr. Marchan began appearing annually at the New Orleans Jazz &  
    Heritage Festival and presenting gong shows at local clubs. A bout with  
    cancer and the removal of a kidney in the early 1990s cut down his  
    performing, but he remained active in the music business. He started Manicure  
    Productions, a company that scouted, promoted and booked hip-hop acts, and  
    was also a key figure in the formation and success of Cash Money Records. 

    Mr. Marchan's last public appearance was at the 1999 Essence Music Festival.  
    He is survived by an aunt, Anabelle E. Adair of Youngstown, Ohio. 

    Funeral arrangements were incomplete Tuesday. 

    © 1999, The Times-Picayune. Used without permission. 

    
  
 
 

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All-Music Guide
 
Born: April  30, 1930 in Youngstown, OH
Died: December 5, 1999 
 
 A premier female impersonator, Bobby Marchan was part of a troupe called the Powder Box Revue. Before going on his own, Marchan played with Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns, toured with Shirley & Lee, and led his own band, the Tick Tocks. He landed his lone number one hit in 1960, a powerhouse version of "There's Something on Your Mind" for Fire. He continued recording for various tiny labels, and in 1966 had a Top 20 R&B single with "Shake Your Tambourine" for Cameo. -- Ron Wynn, All Music Guide 
                 
 
 
 
  
 
 

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