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Baker, Lavern (Dolores Williams)

rock pop hit records

Baker, Lavern (Dolores Williams), big-lunged R&B star of the 1950s; b. Chicago, Nov. 11, 1929; d. N.Y.C., March 10, 1997. Dolores Williams began singing in church at the age of 12, and started performing professionally at Chicago’s Club DeLisa in 1946, billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” Spotted by bandleader Fletcher Henderson, she initially recorded for the OKeh subsidiary of Columbia Records in 1948, subsequentlyrecording for RCA-Victor in 1949. Adopting the name Lavern Baker, she performed and recorded for King Records with Todd Rhodes’s band in 1952–53, and signed with Atlantic Records in 1953 upon her return from a solo European tour. Her third release, Winfield Scott’s novelty song “Tweedle Dee,” became a smash R&B and major pop hit in early 1955. However, white artist Georgia Gibbs quickly covered the song for Mercury and scored an even bigger pop hit. Through 1956 Baker scored smash R&B hits with “Bop-Ting-A-Ling”/ “That’s All I Need” and the ballads “Play It Fair” and “Still” (covered by The Commodores in 1979), backed with “I Can’t Love You Enough,” a major pop hit. In 1957 “Jim Dandy” became a top R&B and major pop hit and was followed by the inevitable followup, “Jim Dandy Got Married.” She toured with deejay/ promoter Alan Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll stage shows, and performed in two of his movies, Rock, Rock, Rock and Mister Rock and Roll, both from 1957.

In 1958 Lavern Baker achieved her biggest hit with the soulful ballad “I Cried a Tear,” featuring saxophonist King Curtis. She also recorded her acclaimed Sings Bessie Smith album, on which she paid homage to the famous blues queen—an unusual move for a pop songstress. Subsequent hits included “I Waited Too Long” (written by Neil Sedaka), the rave-up “Saved” (written and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller), and blues legend Ma Rainey’s “See See Rider.” By 1964 Baker had left Atlantic, managing her final, albeit minor, hit with “Think Twice,” recorded with Jackie Wilson, on Brunswick Records in 1966. While touring Asia in 1969 she became seriously ill and moved to the Philippines, where she managed and occasionally performed at a Marine NCO club on Subie Bay for over 20 years. She briefly returned to the United States for Atlantic’s 40th anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in 1988, and later came back to take Ruth Brown’s place in the musical Black and Blue during the second half of 1990. Baker was awarded the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Career Achievement Award in 1990 and inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. She resumed touring and recording, including “Slow Rollin’ Mama” for the soundtrack to the popular film Dick Tracy, but suffered two strokes, as well as diabetes. She died at a N.Y. hospital on March 10, 1997.

A major R&B artist of the 1950s, Lavern Baker scored some of the earliest crossover hits onto the pop charts, including “Tweedle Dee” and “Jim Dandy.” However, cover versions of several of her hits, primarily by white artist Georgia Gibbs, kept her from achieving as large a sales success as she might otherwise have accomplished. Performing in early rock ‘n’ roll movies and tours, Baker’s career went into eclipse in the mid-1960s with the rise of soul music. She eventually re-emerged in the 1990s, performing on the cabaret and nightclub circuit, as well as in blues and rock-revival festivals, until her death in 1997.

Baker, Theodore [next] [back] Baker, Josephine (1906–1975)

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