B. J. Baker

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Betty Jane Baker (May 6, 1927 – April 2, 2002) was a singer, songwriter and vocal contractor who worked as a backup singer on recordings by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, The Righteous Brothers and Sam Cooke, among others. She also sang on the radio, with big bands and did voice work for television and films and appeared on television variety shows.

Life and career[edit]

Born Betty Jane Phillips in Birmingham, Alabama, Baker was Miss Alabama in 1944 as Betty Jane Rase, and was 4th runner-up in the 1944 Miss America Pageant. She was married to Mickey Rooney from 1944 to 1949, and the couple had two children, Mickey Rooney Jr. (b. 1945) and Tim Rooney (1947–2006). She was married to composer Buddy Baker from 1950 to 1957, and jazz guitarist Barney Kessel from 1961 until their divorce in 1980.[1]

From the 1940s, Baker sang in big bands and on the radio, and in the 1960s, she appeared in several television shows, including the variety shows of Dean Martin and Judy Garland.[2] She backed Elvis Presley in his recording of "Can't Help Falling in Love", Lloyd Price in "Stagger Lee", Sam Cooke in "You Send Me", Bobby Darin in "Dream Lover", Frank Sinatra in "That's Life", Jackie Wilson in "Baby Workout", The Righteous Brothers in "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and Nancy Sinatra on her 1969 album Nancy.[3] She also was well regarded as a vocal contractor for backup singers[4] and recorded extensively with the Anita Kerr Singers.[5]

In addition to her studio singing, Baker lent her voice to Linda Low's songs in the 1961 film version of Flower Drum Song[3] and to The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant (1968 TV movie), Babar Comes to America (1971 TV movie) and Heidi's Song (1982).

She died in 2002, aged 74, in Rancho Mirage, California, of complications from a stroke.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "B.J. Baker, 74, a backup singer who worked on hits", Baltimore Sun, April 14, 2002, accessed December 29, 2012
  2. ^ "B.J. Baker: Backup singer who worked with Elvis, Sinatra, Cooke", Variety, April 14, 2002, accessed December 29, 2012
  3. ^ a b c Cromelin, Richard. "B.J. Baker, 74; Backed Top Singers of '50s, '60s", Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2002, accessed December 29, 2012
  4. ^ "B.J. Baker, 74, Backup singer on many popular '50s, '60s records", Chicago Tribune, April 14, 2002, accessed December 29, 2012
  5. ^ B. J. Baker discography, Discogs.com, accessed December 29, 2012

Further reading[edit]

  • Bennett, James R. Historic Birmingham & Jefferson County: An Illustrated History, Historical Publishing Network, 2008
  • Marx, Arthur. The Nine Lives of Mickey Rooney (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1988 reprint)
  • Rooney, Mickey. Life Is Too Short (New York: Random House, 1991)
  • Summerfield, Maurice J. and Barney Kessel. Barney Kessel Jazz Legend (Ashley Mark Publishing, 2008 paperback)

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Toula Hagestratou
Miss Alabama
1944
Succeeded by
Frances Dorn