LaVern Baker interviewed by Howard Millier – September 16, 1955 – CBS Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
LaVern Baker in conversation with Howard Miller over the CBS Radio network on September 16, 1955.
In case you don’t know, here is who you are listening to (thanks Wikipedia):
LaVern Baker (November 11, 1929 – March 10, 1997) was an American R&B singer who had several hit records on the pop chart in the 1950s and early 1960s. Her most successful records were “Tweedle Dee” (1955), “Jim Dandy” (1956), and “I Cried a Tear” (1958).
Baker began singing in Chicago clubs such as the Club DeLisa 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 was billed as LaVern Baker when she sang with Todd Rhodes and his band in 1952.
In 1953 she 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 “Tweedle Dee”, which reached number 4 on the R&B chart and number 14 on the national US pop chart. Georgia Gibbs recorded a note-for-note cover of the song, which reached number 1; subsequently Baker made an unsuccessful attempt to sue her and petitioned Congress to consider such covers copyright violations.
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” (number 3 R&B), “Play It Fair” (number 2 R&B), and “Still” (number 4 R&B). At the end of 1956 she had another hit with “Jim Dandy” (number 1 R&B, number 17 pop), which sold over one million copies and was certified as a gold disc. Further hits followed for Atlantic, including the follow-up “Jim Dandy Got Married” (number 7 R&B), “I Cried a Tear” (number 2 R&B, number 6 pop in 1958, with sax by King Curtis), “I Waited Too Long” (number 5 R&B, number 3 pop, written by Neil Sedaka), “Saved” (number 17 R&B, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller), and “See See Rider” (number 9 R&B in 1963). In addition to singing, she 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. She then left Atlantic for Brunswick Records, for which she recorded the album Let Me Belong to You.
Okay, that’s the background. In 1955 there were grumblings about the popularity of this emerging form of new music. Rock n’ Roll hadn’t taken center stage yet and was still hanging around the perimeter, and still subject to segregation in charts (and venues).
Although Miller dominates the interview, almost to the point of reducing Baker to giving one word answers, it’s still significant because Baker was one of the breakthrough artists during these early days of Rock and appearing on a morning network radio show could potentially do much to create a crossover; introducing Rhythm & Blues to a mainstream Pop audience.
Another page of Rock n’ Roll history with someone who may not be as familiar to many as she should be – further evidence nothing happens overnight.