LaVern Baker (November 11, 1929 – March 10, 1997) was an American rhythm and blues singer.
She was born Delores Baker in Chicago, Illinois. She is occasionally referred to as Delores Williams because of an early marriage to Eugene Williams. She was the niece of blues singer Merline Johnson and was also related to Memphis Minnie.
She began singing in Chicago clubs around 1946, often billed as "Little Miss Sharecropper", and first recorded under that name in 1949. She changed her name briefly to "Bea Baker" when recording for Okeh Records in 1951, and then became LaVern Baker when singing with Todd Rhodes and his band in 1952.
Visit the LaVern Baker exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1953 she signed for Atlantic Records as a solo artist, her first release being "Soul on Fire". Her first hit came in early 1955, with the Latin-tempo "Tweedlee Dee" reaching #4 on the R&B chart and #14 on the national US pop charts. Georgia Gibbs scored the bigger hit with her version of "Tweedle Dee", for which Baker unsuccessfully attempted to sue her. LaVern did manage to get in a jab, however. When LaVern was flying to Australia, she took out flight insurance at the airport and sent it to Gibbs with a note: "You need this more than I do because if anything happens to me, you're out of business."
Baker had a succession of hits on the R&B charts over the next couple of years with her backing group The Gliders, including "Bop-Ting-A-Ling" (#3 R&B), "Play It Fair" (#2 R&B), and "Still" (#4 R&B). At the end of 1956 she had another smash hit with "Jim Dandy" (#1 R&B, #17 pop). Further hits followed for Atlantic, including the follow-up "Jim Dandy Got Married" (#7 R&B), "I Cried A Tear" (#2 R&B, #6 pop in 1959), "I Waited Too Long" (#5 R&B, #3 pop, written by Neil Sedaka), "Saved" (#17 R&B, written by Leiber and Stoller), and "See See Rider" (#9 R&B in 1963).
In addition to singing, Baker also did some work with Ed Sullivan and Alan Freed on TV and in films, including Rock, Rock, Rock and Mr. Rock & Roll. In 1964, she recorded a Bessie Smith tribute album, before leaving Atlantic and joining Brunswick Records, where she recorded as a duo with Jackie Wilson.
In the late 1960s, she became seriously ill after a trip to Vietnam to entertain American soldiers. About that same time, a friend recommended that she stay on as the entertainment director at a Marine Corps night club at the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, and she remained there for 22 years.
In 1988 she returned to perform at Madison Square Garden for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary. She then worked on the soundtrack to Dick Tracy and appeared in Black & Blue, a Broadway musical, and released a comeback disc that sold moderately well.
In 1991, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her song "Jim Dandy" was named one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and was ranked #343 on the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
LaVern Baker died from coronary complications in 1997, and was interred in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, New York. She lies in an unmarked grave, but a fundraiser was scheduled by local historians to give LaVern a headstone in April 2008.