b. Delores Williams Baker, 11th November 1929, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
d. 10th March 1997, Queens, New York, U.S.A.
Delores LaVern Baker was an R&B songstress, whose career began in the mid-fifties at Atlantic Records.
LaVern was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1929.
She was also known as Delores Williams (having once been married to Eugene Williams).
During the 1940’s she listed as ‘D. L. McMurley’, according to the rca records imprint.
LaVern began singing in Chicago nightclubs around 1946.
She was sometimes posted at these venues as ‘Little Miss Sharecropper’.
In 1949, she took up that stage name for a short period, then changing her name to ‘Bea Baker’.
lavern in 1952
LaVern signed to Okeh Records in 1951, changing her name again to ‘LaVern Baker’ in 1952, whilst singing with Todd Rhodes and his band.
In 1953 she signed for Atlantic Records as a solo singer.
Soul On Fire b/w How Can You Leave A Man Like This? - 1953 / Tweedle Dee b/w Tomorrow Night - 1955
LaVern’s debut single was ‘Soul on Fire’, which did not chart, however, she charted in 1955 with ‘Tweedlee Dee’.
The song reached number 4 on the R&B chart and number 14 on the U.S. pop charts.
‘Tweedlee Dee’ was covered by the singer, Georgia Gibbs, who had a bigger hit with the song.
LaVern tried to unsuccessfully sue her.
Her own hits at Atlantic continued.
Backed by her group The Gliders, LaVern charted with ‘Bop-Ting-A-Ling’ (number 3 R&B), ‘Play It Fair’ (number 2 R&B), and ‘Still’ (number 4 R&B).
la vern - 1956 / la vern baker - 1957 / sings bessie smith - 1958 / blues ballads - 1960
In 1956, LaVern achieved one of her biggest recording successes with ‘Jim Dandy’ (which charted at number 1 R&B, and number 17 pop).
The song sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
She followed up the hit with ‘Jim Dandy Got Married’ (number 7 R&B), ‘I Cried a Tear’ (number 2 R&B, number 6 pop in 1959), ‘I Waited Too Long’ (number 5 R&B, number 3 pop), ‘Saved’ (number 17 R&B), and ‘See See Rider’ (number 9 R&B in 1963).
LaVern made television appearances to embellish her career, including shows such as Ed Sullivan and Alan Freed.
She also appeared in the films ‘Rock, Rock, Rock’ and ‘Mr. Rock & Roll’.
In 1964, she recorded a Bessie Smith tribute album, at Atlantic, before switching labels to Brunswick Records.
At Brunswick, she released the album ‘Let Me Belong to You’.
saved - 1961 / see see rider - 1962 / let me belong to you - 1970 / woke up this morning - 1992
In 1966, she sang a duet with Jackie Wilson called ‘Think Twice’.
The lyrical content led to the track not receiving any airplay.
In the late 1960s, LaVern travelled to Vietnam to entertain American soldiers, which led to her becoming unwell.
LaVern recuperated at the U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines.
When her husband filed for divorce, LaVern was offered a posting as entertainment director at the Marine Corps Staff NCO club.
LaVern took up the posting, and worked in that role for the coming 22 years.
On her return, in 1988, LaVern performed at the Madison Square Garden for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary.
She worked on several film soundtracks, including the films, ‘Shag’, (in 1989), ‘Dick Tracy’, (in 1990) and ‘A Rage in Harlem’ (in 1991).
LaVern also sang in Alan Parker's film ‘Angel Heart’ (in 1987).
In 1990, LaVern took over from Ruth Brown as star of the hit musical ‘Black and Blue’, on Broadway.
In 1992, she released the album ‘Woke Up This Morning’, for DRG Records.
In 1994, diabetes led to her having both legs amputated.
The same year, she recorded her final song, ‘Jump Into the Fire’, as part of a Harry Nilsson tribute CD, entitled ‘For the Love of Harry’.
LaVern passed away from cardiovascular disease in March 1997, at the age of 67.
She was, initially, buried in an unmarked plot in Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York.
Her grave, finally, received a headstone in May 2008, after a fundraiser was held.
During her career, LaVern Baker received the 1990 Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
LaVern was the niece of the blues singer Merline Johnson and was also related to Memphis Minnie.
La Vern (Atlantic Records 1956)
La Vern Baker (Atlantic Records 1957)
Rock And Roll With La Vern (Atlantic Records 1957)
LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith (Atlantic Records 1958)
Blues Ballads (Atlantic Records 1959)
Precious Memories (Atlantic Records 1959)
Saved (Atlantic Records 1961)
See See Rider (Atlantic Records 1962)
I'm Gonna Get You (Brunswick Records 1966)
Let Me Belong To You (Brunswick Records 1970)
Woke Up This Morning (DRG Records 1992)