Bonnie Baker (singer)
|Birth name||Evelyn Underhill
(or Evelyn Nelson)
|Also known as||Wee Bonnie Baker
Evelyn Reyo Lakey
April 1, 1917|
Orange, Texas, United States
|Died||August 11, 1990
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
|Labels||Columbia, Warner Bros.|
|Associated acts||Orrin Tucker|
Bonnie Baker (née Evelyn Nelson, April 1, 1917 – August 11, 1990) was an American singer of jazz and popular music and was known from 1936 to the end of her performing career as Wee Bonnie Baker. Her biggest hit was "Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!," recorded with the Orrin Tucker Orchestra in 1939.
She was born in Orange, Texas; most sources give her birth name as Evelyn Nelson although, at the time of her death, her family gave it as Evelyn Underhill. She attended school in Galveston and Houston. At age 16, during the 1932–1933 school year, she was a day student at Mount de Sales Academy, in Macon, Georgia, which at that time was a Roman Catholic boarding school for girls.
She then moved back to Houston where she sang in night clubs. She joined Orrin Tucker's band as a vocalist in 1936, after Louis Armstrong suggested that Tucker recruit her. Tucker gave her the stage name "Wee" Bonnie Baker on account of her height, about 4 foot 11 inches. She had only local fame before joining Tucker's orchestra — wider notability did not occur until she performed at the Empire Room of the Palmer House in Chicago in 1939, when she began to flourish in the South and Pacific Coast.
Her girlish voice, described as "like a tiny silver bell, soft but tonally true", was used on a version of the 1917 song "Oh Johnny, Oh!", written by Abe Olman and Ed Rose. It was recorded with the Orrin Tucker Orchestra on August 20, 1939, in Los Angeles. Released on Columbia Records, it became hugely popular in 1940, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard pop chart, remaining on the chart for 14 weeks, and selling 1.5 million copies. It was also Orrin Tucker's biggest hit. She also had success with the songs "You'd Be Surprised," "Billy," "Would Ja Mind?," and "Especially For You."
She left the Tucker orchestra in 1942, and legally adopted her stage name, Bonnie Baker, on October 9, 1943, in Circuit Court, Chicago, Illinois. She then continued with a solo career, singing with the USO (United Service Organizations) during World War II, and appearing regularly on the radio show Your Hit Parade. She also sang with other bands. In 1948, she recorded a novelty song, "That's All Folks!," as a duet with Mel Blanc playing the character Porky Pig. She also voiced the cartoon character Chilly Willy in the 1950s. She released an album, Oh Johnny!, with orchestra conducted by Wilbur Hatch, on Warner Bros. Records in 1956. After moving to Florida in 1958, she continued to sing in clubs with her husband Bill Gailey, who performed as Billy Rogers; the two often performed with Chuck Cabot and His Orchestra.
Personal life and death
Baker was married four times:
- 1. Around 1935, she married Claude R. Lakey (1910–1990), who then was a saxophonist with Harry James. They divorced December 1936 in Houston. She was named as Evelyn Reyo Lakey at the time she legally adopted her stage name of Bonnie Baker in 1943.
- 2. On 9 December 1943, she married John Hollingsworth Morse (1910–1988) — then an Army first lieutenant based in Los Angeles who later became a film and TV director — at the Gotham Hotel in New York.
- 3. On 16 March 1948 in Leesburg, Georgia, Baker married Frank E. Taylor, her manager, while their automobile was being serviced on a trip from Chicago to Miami. Baker met Taylor in Detroit in 1944, and Taylor became her manager in late 1946. They divorced 8 October 1949. Together, they had a daughter, Sharon Taylor (1948–2003), who married Joel G. McFarland (born 1936).
- 4. In late spring 1950, giving her maiden name as Underhill, she married William (Bill) Henry Gailey (1914–1990), a jazz guitarist and stage-act writer, also known as Billy Rogers, with whom she had been performing, and continued to perform with until her heart attack in 1965.
She died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1990 at the age of 73.
- You're The One (1941)
- Seth Borenstein, Obituary: "Wee" Bonnie Baker Gailey, 73, Band Singer Of "Oh Johnny" Hit, Sun-Sentinel, August 14, 1990
- The Sport Scene, Dallas Morning News, May 21, 1949, Sect I, pg. 8
- Class Role Books, Mount de Sales Academy Archives, Macon, Georgia
- Tucker, Bonnie Baker at Variety Ball, Milwaukee Sentinel, February 11, 1940, pg. 13
- 'Oh, Johnny's' Bonnie Baker Becomes Towhead for Film Role in 'You're the One', The Knickerbocker (Albany, New York), November 18, 1940, pg. 10A
- Bonnie Baker at Solid!
- It's a New Start for Bonnie Baker, Utica Observer, June 7, 1942
- Orrin Tucker at Solid!
- Bonnie Adopts Name Legally, Billboard, pg. 16, October 16, 1943
- "That's All Folks!" at Discogs.com
- Bonnie Baker at TV.com
- It's a Dog's Tale — Hollywood Style, Dallas Morning News, April 15, 1976, Sect D, pg. 3
- Sixty-First District Court, Daily Court Review (Houston), December 21, 1936, pg. 4, col. 2 (bottom)
- Bonnie Baker Married Here, The New York Times, December 10, 1943
- Wee Bonnie Baker, Manager Are Married, The Evening Independent, March 19, 1948, pg. 16
- Singer Weds Manager, March 18, 1948, Rockford Morning Star (Illinois), March 18, 1948, pg. 2
- Bonnie Baker vs. Frank Taylor, Cook County Superior Court, State of Illinois, The Hon. Judge Joseph A. Sabath, Judge, presiding (1949)
- Chicago, Billboard Magazine, November 18, 1950, pg. 18, col. 4