LaVern Baker, whose hits “Tweedle Dee” and “Jim Dandy” put her at the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts in the 1950s and earned her a spot in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, died Monday of diabetes-related causes at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. She was 67.
Baker was inducted into the rock hall of fame in 1991, telling the audience, “Regardless of how old you are when you get this, it’s still good, baby.”
Her other hits included “Bop-Ting-a-Ling,” “I Cried a Tear,” “Shake a Hand,” “Saved” and “C.C. Rider.”
Like other black artists in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, Baker saw many of her songs covered by white singers who wound up selling more records with their versions than the original singers did.
Baker was so upset with Georgia Gibbs (because Gibbs’ “Tweedle Dee” succeeded on white radio stations) that Baker offered to make Gibbs her insurance policy beneficiary in case of a plane crash: “When I went to Australia with Bill Haley, Big Joe Turner, the Platters and Freddy Bell and the Bellboys, I left her my (flight) insurance pol-icy,” Baker once said. “I sent it to her with a letter: ‘Since I’ll be away and you won’t have anything new to copy, you might as well take this.’ ”
Bandleader Fletcher Henderson led her to her first recording contract, with Atlantic Records in 1950. He had spotted her fronting bands in clubs that included Detroit’s Flame.
Baker, who was born Delores Williams in Chicago on Nov. 11, 1929, lived in the Philippines during the ’70s and ’80s, managing a club near a U.S. military base and singing there on weekends.
She returned to the U.S. in 1988 when Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun invited her to perform at the company’s 40th anniversary bash.
She later came back to record “Saved” and “Leaving It Up to You” with Ben E. King for the film “Shag,” and an-other time for a concert at Kennedy Center, and to record “Slow-Rolling Mama” for the film “Dick Tracy.”
Baker subsequently came back to stay and made her Broadway debut in “Black and Blue” in 1990. The producers had heard her 1958 “LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith” record, and she replaced Ruth Brown for the last eight months of the run.