LaVern Baker, a powerful, soulful voice


Lavern Baker
Date: 
Mon, 1929-11-11

On this date in 1929, LaVern Baker, an African American singer and entertainer, was born.

She was born Delores Williams in Chicago and began singing at an early age. The natural power of her voice, like many of her peers before her, came from her gospel background. Raised by her aunt, the famed Memphis Minnie, also influenced young Delores. In late 1946, as soon as she was old enough to go from singing for the Lord in choir to singing for money in a business that served liquor, she got a job at the Club De Lisa.

She used two aliases depending on her audience. Billed as Little Miss Sharecropper, she performed in a custom-tattered patched-sack dress. For the other clubs, she was Bea Baker, possibly derived from Memphis Minnie’s real name --Merline Baker. In 1947, 17-year-old Williams moved with her family to Detroit, where she sang at the Flame Show Bar. In 1949, she was heard on record for the first time, singing with the Eddie Penigar Band on RCA-Victor.

In 1950, she recorded Sharecropper's Boogie for Columbia, with Hot Lips Page and Red Saunders, but a year later, Columbia's Okeh released three singles by her, as Bea Baker, with Maurice King and His Wolverines. In 1952, she replaced Kitty Stevenson as the vocalist with Todd Rhodes and His Orchestra, taking the name LaVern Baker. The acclaim she gained through her singing with Rhodes was so strong that she was able to tour Europe successfully on her own. In 1953, upon her return, Baker set out to establish herself as a solo artist, and recorded with Atlantic, which had been in business barely five years.

Baker began recording and from that first session came "Soul On Fire," penned by Atlantic's founder Ahmet Ertegun. Her first hit, "Tweedle Dee," rose in 1955 to became a Number Four R&B hit and a Top Twenty pop hit. It defined the sound of LaVern Baker's glory, never straying far from the source in the Baptist Church of her background. "See See Rider," in 1962, was Baker's last big hit.

Not long after that, she left Atlantic. The times had changed. But the truth remained: hers was one of the voices that first brought rock 'n' roll to glory. LaVern Baker died in 1997 due to complications of diabetes.

Reference:
ACSAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
ISBN 0-8351-1283-1

Heart & Soul
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America, 1930-1975
by Merlis Davin Seay, Forward by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books
ISBN 0-8230-8314-4

To Become a Musician or Singer

Person / name: 

Baker, LaVern