LaVern Baker was one of the top R&B singers of the early rock era.
She was born Delores LaVern Baker in Chicago in 1929. LaVern began her singing career at age 17 as "Little Miss Sharecropper," and at times recorded as "Bea Baker." She came to the attention of bandleader Feltcher Henderson and signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, and a short time later had a local hit with When I'm In A Crying Mood. Miss Baker recorded with the Todd Rhodes Orchestra and had a minor hit with Trying in 1952. She toured Europe as a solo act before returning to the United States to sign a contract with Atlantic Records.
From 1955 to 1965 LaVern Baker had 15 hits on the R&B charts, eight of them reaching the top ten, to go with 18 top 100 entries on the pop chart during the same time period. Her biggest early hit was Tweedle Dee, in 1955; like some of her other records, this one was billed as by LaVern Baker and the Gliders, the Gliders being the group that backed her from time to time. It was an era when white recording artists would at times record songs that crossed over from the R&B charts; Tweedle Dee was an even bigger hit for Georgia Gibbs, as well as a hit in the UK for Frankie Vaughan. LaVern was becoming more popular as a pop singer and had hits with I Can't Love You Enough and Jim Dandy in 1956.
LaVern's only top ten pop hit was I Cried A Tear in 1959. Others followed, including one written by Neil Sedaka titled I Waited Too Long. She recordeed some duets with Jimmy Ricks in the early 60's, most notably You're The Boss in 1961, as well as with Jackie Wilson (Think Twice). LaVern's final top forty pop hit was See See Rider, in 1963, still on the Atlantic label.
A story that is a part of the LaVern Baker legend is that she taught Johnnie Ray how to sing the blues, whether it is true or not. Her influence on the evolution of pop music is quite evident. Perhaps more than most R&B singers of the 50's she was hurt by the proliferation of white artists covering R&B tunes; at one point she was reported to have encountered Georgia Gibbs at an airport, and LaVern told her to take out insurance in case LaVern was killed in a crash. Along the way she had done some performing on television, on film and on stage, including appearances in the films Rock, Rock, Rock and Mr. Rock & Roll.
Miss Baker moved to the Philippines in the late 60's to become the musical director at a night club on a naval base there, and remained in that position for more than two decades. She returned to New York and took part in the Atlantic Records anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in 1988. She suffered from diabetes, and complications led to her having both legs amputated, in 1994. LaVern had heart problems also, which resulted in her death in New York City, in 1997.
LaVern Baker made significant contributions to pop music, and took her place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
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