LaVern Baker: Big Voice, Indomitable Spirit
March 7, 2015 11:28 AM   Subscribe

LaVern Baker had a strong, soaring voice and scored hits such as Jim Dandy, Tweedle Dee, and I Cried A Tear. She also did some well-received duets, such as You're The Boss with Jimmy Ricks or Shake A Hand with Jackie Wilson. Her life wasn't as smooth as her voice, though; her hits were constantly ripped off by a white singer, and when she went to Vietnam to entertain American troops, she came down with pneumonia and was left behind by the others on the tour. "She described the fantastical saga that ensued: "I didn't know what to do, who to go to. The tour was gone and I was in a strange country where telephone service was practically nonexistent. I hitched with farmers on wagons to Bangkok…. I'd had to slog through rice paddies in water up to my shoulders in some places to get to Bangkok, so by the time the Marines got me to the base I'd had a relapse."" The difficulties were just beginning..
posted by purplesludge (9 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I've always loved her music but never knew her story. What an amazing woman!
posted by Foam Pants at 12:46 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow! I've adored LaVern Baker since I heard her sing "Saved," which is pretty much astounding in its own right. I never realized she ended up spending a good chunk of her life in the Philippines because of a strange, random mishap like this. What an awesome and interesting woman. Thanks!
posted by koeselitz at 12:47 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Also worth noting is the infamous "Version X" of her duet "Think Twice" with Jackie Wilson. I think it's pretty great.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:30 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm another who loves her music but knew nothing about her until now. Voodoo Voodoo has always been one of my favorites of hers.
posted by talking leaf at 1:39 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Quite a story about one of the great female rock and roll singers and I'll second Voodoo Voodoo as a great song. Also, Elvis Presley's "Little Sister," mentions Baker's "Jim Dandy" to which she replied with "Hey Memphis." (Sorry no links can't do that from here). All that cross-racial flirting must've raised some eyebrows.
posted by jonmc at 2:09 PM on March 7, 2015

> I'm another who loves her music but knew nothing about her until now.

Me too. What a story! Thanks for a wonderful post.
posted by languagehat at 3:20 PM on March 7, 2015

Wow, serendipitous — literally yesterday I was in a bar and used Soundhound to figure out "hey, what's this great song that's playing?" Answer: "Voodoo Voodoo" by LaVern Baker. Definitely want to check out more of her work!
posted by Lexica at 6:20 PM on March 7, 2015

Here's Hey Memphis.

I had known of her but never really knew about her, so this is a great introduction. Imagine my delight to learn that she did a whole album of Bessie Smith covers! So awesome. (Here's Nobody Knows When You are Down and Out and Empty Bed Blues)

According to this obituary, she had divorced Slappy White before the USO show, so I'm side-eying his declaring her dead and taking over her catalog even more than I was before.
posted by julen at 7:45 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

And name-checked in "Wig in a Box" in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
posted by dglynn at 7:07 AM on March 8, 2015

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