LaVern Baker Biography

Delores Williams, 11 November 1929, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 10 March 1997, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA. Baker was a pioneering voice in the fusion of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s. In 1947 she was discovered in a Chicago nightclub by band leader Fletcher Henderson. Although still in her teens, the singer won a recording contract with the influential OKeh Records, where she was nicknamed ‘Little Miss Sharecropper’ and ‘Bea Baker’. Having toured extensively with the Todd Rhodes Orchestra, Baker secured a prestigious contract with Atlantic Records, with whom she enjoyed a fruitful relationship. ‘Tweedle Dee’ reached both the US R&B and pop charts in 1955, selling in excess of one million copies, and the artist was awarded a second gold disc two years later for ‘Jim Dandy’. In 1959, she enjoyed a number 6 pop hit with ‘I Cried A Tear’ and throughout the decade Baker remained one of black music’s leading performers. Although eclipsed by newer acts during the 60s, the singer enjoyed further success with ‘Saved’, written and produced by Leiber And Stoller, and ‘See See Rider’, both of which inspired subsequent versions, notably by the Band and the Animals. Baker’s final chart entry came with ‘Think Twice’, a 1966 duet with Jackie Wilson, as her ‘classic’ R&B intonation grew increasingly out of step with the prevalent soul/ Motown Records boom. After leaving Atlantic, Baker is probably best known for ‘One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show’.

In the late 60s, while entertaining US troops in Vietnam, she became ill, and went to the Philippines to recuperate. She stayed there in self-imposed exile for 22 years, reviving her career at New York’s Village Gate club in 1991. During the following year she undertook a short UK tour, but audience numbers were disappointing for the only female, along with Aretha Franklin, who had, at that time, been elected to the US Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. She replaced Ruth Brown in the Broadway musical Black And Blue in the early 90s, but ill health from diabetes, together with the amputation of both her legs, made her final years miserable. Baker had a stunning voice that with little effort could crack walls, and yet her ballad singing was wonderfully sensitive.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.