LaVern Baker (November 11, 1929 - March 10, 1997) was a highly acclaimed and influential R&B singer with powerful belting vocals and a great deal of crossover appeal who became famous beginning in the mid 1950s. Her many signature songs include the frisky Latin-infused "Tweedle Dee" (1955), the rollicking "Jim Dandy" (1956), and the lovelorn "I Cried A Tear" (1958).
Born Delores Evans in Chicago, Illinois, she sang gospel in church as a child and began in 1946 performing as a blues singer in nightclubs while still in her late teens. Often billed as "Little Miss Share Cropper" because of her raggedy onstage costumes, she made her first recordings in 1949 under that moniker. She then recorded briefly as Bea Baker at Okeh Records in 1951 and by the following year, had become known as LaVern Baker while singing with the Todd Rhodes Orchestra. In 1953, she signed with Atlantic Records as a solo artist.
LaVern Baker debuted in 1955 with "Tweedle Dee," which became a Top 5 R&B hit and made the Pop/Rock charts Top 20. Her next crossover successes came in late 1956 with "I Can't Love You Enough" and the original version of "Jim Dandy," the latter of which topped the R&B charts, made the Pop/Rock Top 20, and soon after went gold. Her biggest crossover hit came in late 1958 with "I Cried A Tear," which reached #2 and #6 on the R&B and Pop/Rock charts, respectively, and featured King Curtis on saxophone. Baker's long string of hits on both charts through 1966, many performed with her backing group, The Gliders, also includes "Bop-Ting-A-Ling" (1955), "Play It Fair" (1955), "Still" (1956), "Jim Dandy Got Married" (1957), the Neil Sedaka-penned "I Waited Too Long" (1959), "Saved" (1961), and "See See Rider" (1962), plus her renditions of such traditional pop standards as "If You Love Me" (1959), "Wheel Of Fortune" (1960), and "Fly Me To The Moon" (1965). Baker co-starred with famed deejay Alan Freed in the movie musicals, "Rock, Rock, Rock!" (1956) and "Mr. Rock & Roll" (1957), which spawned additional hits on both charts with "Tra La La" (1956) and "Humpty Dumpty Heart" (1957), respectively. Later hits include the saucy "Think Twice" (1966) performed as a duet with Jackie Wilson.
In 1969, LaVern Baker signed on for a USO tour and contracted pneumonia while entertaining troops in Vietnam. She went to the Philippines for treatment where she remained for 22 years running an NCO nightclub in Subic Bay. She made a comeback in 1988 with her performance at a 40th anniversary concert for Atlantic Records in New York City's Madison Square Garden. She then worked on the soundtracks to several films before making her Broadway debut in 1990, replacing Ruth Brown as the star of the hit musical, "Black And Blue." That same year, she became among the first eight recipients of the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and in 1991, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. "Jim Dandy" was named one of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll and was included in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
- The New York Times remembers LaVern Baker.
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- See See Rider 1962
(This song (a.k.a. "C.C. Rider.") was previously a hit for Chuck Willis (1957) and later also became a hit for the Animals (1966) and Bobby Powell (1966).)
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