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Bobby Freeman (1940–2017)

by Kirk Fox

Bobby Freeman, a rhythm and blues singer-songwriter known best for his hit song “Do You Want To Dance,” died Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, according to The New York Times. He was 76.

The singer’s son Robert Jr. told the Times Monday that his father died of a heart attack. The singer’s death was not widely reported.

The singer was raised in San Francisco, California. As a teenager, he started singing for a doo-wop group called the Romancers. When the group broke up, Freeman started his own called the Vocaleers.


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A local disc jockey asked Freeman if he had any songs. Freeman wrote a few songs and then recorded the demos. One of the demo songs was “Do You Want To Dance.” Jubilee Records executives heard the song and signed the 17-year-old singer to their label. They released the song in 1958, and it reached No. 5 on the pop charts. A persistent rumor that has not been proved is that Jerry Garcia played guitar on the track.

“Do You Want To Dance” has been covered many times throughout the years. The Beach Boys, the Ramones, John Lennon, and Bette Midler released cover versions of the song. The Beach Boys recorded an up-tempo version that features their trademark vocal harmonies. Dennis Wilson takes a rare turn as lead vocalist. The Ramones powered the Beach Boys’ arrangement of the song with their punk-pop, and Bette Midler recorded the song as a ballad.

Freeman was a dynamic live performer. He toured with Jackie Wilson and Fats Domino, and he also appeared on “American Bandstand.” He had a second top-10 hit in 1964 with “C’Mon and Swim,” which was produced by a young Sly Stone and was about the dance of the same name.

Though Freeman did not have a hit song after 1964, he continued to perform at clubs around the country.

In addition to his son Robert, his survivors include another son, Jerrald; his partner of 17 years, Michele Ellen; two daughters, April Freeman and Nichole Hackett; and several grandchildren.

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