Lavern Baker had music in her blood, being related to both Memphis Minnie and Merline Johnson. She had several hits records in the 1950s and early 1960s including “Tweedlee Dee” (1955), “Jim Dandy” (1956), and “I Cried a Tear” (1958).
Baker was born in Chicago on November 11, 1929, and is occasionally referred to as Delores Williams because of an early marriage to Eugene Williams. She began her singing career in 1946 singing in Chicago clubs, and was often billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” Baker recently changed her name to Bea Baker when recording for Okeh Records in 1951, she then became Lavern Baker when singing with Todd Rhodes.
In 1953, Baker signed with 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 number four on the R&B chart.
Baker married comedian Slappy White, but they later divorced in 1969. Baker signed on for a USO tour but became seriously ill with bronchial pneumonia after a trip to Vietnam. While recovering at the US Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, a friend recommended that she stay on as the entertainment director at the Marine Corps Staff NCO club there. She remained there for 22 years, returning to the US after the base was closed in 1988.
Baker made her last recording, “Jump Into the Fire,” for the 1995 Harry Nilsson tribute CD, For the Love of Harry on the Music Masters label. She lost both of her legs due to the complication of diabetes. In 1990, she was among the first eight recipients of the Pioneer Award for the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
In 1991, Baker became the second female solo artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following Aretha Franklin in 1987. Baker died in 1997 at the age of 67.