LaVern Baker was one of first female R&B performers to cross over to reach large numbers of white listeners in the early days of Rock and Roll. Baker's exuberant delivery drove such mid-50s hits as "Tweedlee Dee" and "Jim Dandy," while 1958's "I Cried a Tear" showed her to be an effective ballad singer.
Born Delores LaVern Baker in Chicago, she began singing in local clubs in the mid-40s. She did some early recording as Little Miss Sharecropper and Bea Baker; by the time she began recording for Atlantic Records in 1953, she was performing as LaVern Baker. "Tweedlee Dee" became her first hit in early 1955. After white singer Georgia Gibbs' note-for-note cover version topped the pop charts, Baker made a fruitless effort to sue Gibbs, and unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to consider making such cover versions illegal.
Baker continued to have hits through the early 60s, placing high on the R&B charts with such tunes as "Bop-Ting-A-Ling," "Play It Fair," "Still," "I Waited Too Long," "Saved" and "See See Rider," and crossing over to the pop charts with "Jim Dandy" and "I Cried a Tear."
In the late 1960s, during a trip to Vietnam to entertain American soldiers, Baker became seriously ill. While recovering at the U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, she was offered a job as entertainment director at the Marine Corps NCO club there. She accepted, and remained in the Philippines for more than two decades.
In 1988, Baker returned to America to perform at Atlantic Records' 40th-anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, and recorded new material for the soundtracks of the films Shag, Dick Tracy and A Rage in Harlem. In 1990, she successfully replaced her former Atlantic labelmate Ruth Brown as star of the hit Broadway musical Black and Blue. Despite health problems related to diabetes, Baker continued to perform and record up until her death in 1997.