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Baker, Anita

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Baker, Anita, tiny powerhouse who helped unleash a new generation of female soul singers; b. Toledo, Ohio, Jan. 26, 1958. Abandoned by her mother at the age of two, Anita Baker was raised by family members and parishoners from their Baptist Church in Detroit. She heard recordings of Sara Vaughn and Aretha Franklin athome, and sang solo in church. By the time she was 16, she worked in her aunt’s beauty parlor by day, and sang in clubs by night. At age 20 she cut an album with the Detroit soul band, Chapter 8. Although they had a minor hit, “I Just Want to Be Your Girl,” the album didn’t sell and they were dropped by their label and broke up.

Baker took the band’s failure personally and stopped singing. She did odd jobs around Detroit, finally landing a receptionist position at a law firm, ironically because they loved how her voice sounded over the telephone. Happy with a job that gave her a decent salary, vacation, and benefits, she stopped singing, until a former employee from her old record company lured her to Los Angeles with the promise of a similar job, a car, and a recording contract for his new label. While the car never materialized, the job and the recording contract did. She recorded The Songstress, an album of ballads going against the grain of the dance music that dominated pop at the time. The album sold nearly 200, 000 copies, largely thanks to the rise of “quiet storm” radio, which offered an alternative to dance music and a home for ballads like the single, “Angel.”

After a contract dispute with the record company, Baker signed to Elektra. The company offered her creative control, which she maintains. She went into the studio with her colleague from Chapter 8, Michael Powell, to cut a batch of what she liked to refer to as “fireside love songs.” The album went over budget, so she dipped into her personal funds. The results were her 1986 album Rapture . The album’s big hit, “Sweet Love,” was part of the soundtrack to an episode of the hit television series Moonlighting, and rose to #8. The second single, “Caught Up in the Rapture,” just broke the Top 40. The album rose to #11 and eventually sold in excess of five million copies. Baker came home from the 1986 Grammy Awards with awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song. She took a 14-piece band on the road, expanding her jazz influences even more in concert. Although Baker didn’t make an album of her own in 1987, her tune “Ain’t No Need to Worry” with the Winans earned them a Best Soul Gospel Performance Grammy.

Baker’s next album, Giving You the Best That I Got, took off on release, and within three weeks, it had sold two million copies. It stayed on top of the charts for four weeks, spawning the #3 title track, and the #14 “Just Because” (which went #1 R&B). Again, she took home a Best R&B Song and best R&B Vocal Performance for the title track. A year later, the song won her Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. The album sold three million copies.

Baker also became one of the most in-demand live artists on the road. At one point she claimed to be the fourth-highest paid singer, not setting foot on stage for less than five figures. In 1989, while on the road with Luther Vandross, Baker miscarried and took time off from the stage.

Baker had also heard complaints about Giving You the Best That I Got sounding too much like Rapture . To inject a little freshness into the mix of her next album, she called on a group of all-star jazz musicians including Kenny Kirkland, Earl Klugh, and others. Recording much of the album live in the studio over the course of 11 days, Compositions was by far the fastest album Baker ever made. Hailed as a stylistic breakthrough, it was far more challenging than either of her previous records, yet it still climbed to #5 on the charts, sold a million copies, and won her yet another Best Vocal Performance, Female, Grammy.

Baker survived a second miscarriage, and desperately wanted to have a baby. She took time off and had two sons within two years. For the next four years, she spent most of her time with her new family, taking time only to record “Witchcraft” for the Frank Sinatra Duets album.

Baker’s “comeback” record Rhythm of Love sold a million records within six days of release. Fusing all of her previous influences, the album had a bit of jazz, a bunch of ballads, a bit of R&B, a taste of gospel, and even some new jack swing. The single, “Body and Soul,” only hit #36, but the album sold two million copies. After its release, Baker got involved in a lawsuit with her record company, and suspended release of new recordings.

Baker, Augusta Braxton (1911-1998) [next] [back] Baird, Tadeusz

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