LaVern Baker

Her voice carried a fascinating mixture of sophistication and down-to-earth power that evoked Bessie Smith and the other vocalists of the classic era, and she did much to set in place the outlines of early rock and roll. LaVern Baker was one of the most original and significant African American vocalists of the 1950s and early 1960s.

Baker was born Delores Williams on November 11, 1929, in Chicago. Her aunt was the classic blues vocalist Memphis Minnie, and she began to sing with friends at an early age. The raw power in her voice, came from gospel; Baker joined the choir at her Baptist church at the age of 12. By her late teens, she was singing blues and pop in Chicago nightclubs. She had a separate alias for each of the two images she wanted to project; for the down-home crowds recently arrived in Chicago, she took the name of Little Miss Sharecropper, while for other club dates she used the name Bea Baker. The name might have been derived from Memphis Minnie's real name, Merline Baker.

One of the musicians who recognized Baker's talent early on was swing bandleader Fletcher Henderson, who heard her in a nightclub in 1947. Baker made some blues recordings under the Little Miss Sharecropper name in 1949, and while these vanished without a trace, her reputation in Midwestern clubs continued to rise. She toured extensively, both as a solo artist and with the Todd Rhodes Orchestra. Appearing at Detroit's legendary Flame Show Bar, she made another influential ally in future soul superstar Al Green, who managed Baker for a time and landed her a recording slot with the Columbia label. She also took vocals, not always credited, on recordings by Rhodes and bandleader Maurice King.

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