Belle Baker

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Belle Baker
Birth name Bella Becker
Born (1893-12-25)December 25, 1893
Origin New York City, New York
Died April 29, 1957(1957-04-29) (aged 63)
Genres Jazz
Vaudeville, Old Time Radio
Occupation(s) Singer
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1904–1955

Belle Baker (25 December 1893 or 1895, New York City, New York – 29 April 1957, Los Angeles, California) was an American singer and actress. Popular throughout the 1910s and 1920s, Baker introduced a number of ragtime and torch songs including Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and "My Yiddishe Mama". She performed in the Ziegfeld Follies and introduced a number of Irving Berlin's songs. An early adapter to radio, Baker hosted her own radio show during the 1930s. Eddie Cantor called her “Dinah Shore, Patti Page, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland all rolled into one.”[1]

Early life[edit]

Baker was born Bella Becker in 1893 to a Russian Jewish family. Baker started performing Cannon Street Music Hall at age 11, where she was discovered by the Yiddish Theatre manager Jacob Adler. She then was managed in vaudeville by Lew Leslie, who she would later marry. She made her vaudeville debut in Scranton, Pennsylvania at the age of 15. She performed in Oscar Hammerstein I's Victoria Theatre in 1911, though her performance was panned, mainly for her song choices. One critic, Z. f Zeitel took Baker under his wing, and by the age of 17, she was a headliner. One of her earliest hits was, "Cohen Owes Me $97".[2]

Belle Baker on the sheet music cover of Nick Clesi's 1916 hit "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry"

By 1917, she was a top headliner in New York. In the early 1920s, when she was well known as The Ragtime Singer, Baker took part in a Baltimore song competition with Catherine Calvert, the Hamilton Sisters (Pearl and Violet) and Jessie Fordyce. She was the first artist to record "All of Me", one of the most recorded songs of its era, and she was also the first person in the United States to do a radio broadcast from a moving train. Baker became known for her ragtime and torch songs including, "Hard Hearted Hannah", "My Sin", "My Kid", "When the Black Sheep Returns to the Fold", "I'll Pick Myself a California Rose". She made a handful of recordings, including "Hard Hearted Hannah" in 1924.

As Baker's fame rose as a vocalist she became known for her Yiddish themed torch songs. In 1925, fellow vaudevillian Sophie Tucker gave Baker a song that had been sent to her for consideration. "My Yiddishe Mama" was a blatant tearjerker, but it was immensely popular and became Baker’s signature song. Similar songs Baker recorded included, "My Man", "My Kid", "Baby Your Mother" and "My Sin".

Broadway and film[edit]

In 1926, Baker had the title role in Broadway's Betsy. She introduced Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" in the Florenz Ziegfeld production, which ran for 39 performances from December 28, 1926 to January 29, 1927. With music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, the musical comedy had a book by Irving Caesar and David Freedman. Victor Baravelle was the musical director. Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" was a last-minute addition to the show; Baker's performance of it went over so well that the audience demanded more than twenty encores of the tune.

Baker had a brief film career as silent film gave way to lavish technicolor musical talkies. She made her film debut in the starring in the 1929 talkie "Song of Love" with Ralph Graves and Eve Arden. The film survives and has been screened at film festivals but not released on DVD. "Song of Love" features two songs performed by Baker written by her husband, "I'm Walking with the Moonbeams (Talking to the Stars)" and "Take Everything But You".

Baker made two more film appearances, one in 1935's "Charing Cross Road" starring John Mills and 1944's "Atlantic City" in which she performed "Nobody's Sweetheart".

Radio and television[edit]

On radio, she was a guest performer on The Eveready Hour, broadcasting's first major variety show, which featured Broadway's top headliners. Baker continued performing through the 1930s, but limited her performances to radio shows.

After Abrahams' death Baker married and quickly divorced Elias H. Sugarman. The scandal caused her to limit her performances in her later years. She made one final television appearance in "This Is Your Life" in 1955, just two years before her death.

Personal life[edit]

Baker's first marriage was at the age of sixteen to producer and promoter Lew Leslie. The couple divorced in 1918. In 1919, she was married to the composer Maurice Abrahams (1883–1931), who wrote the songs "I'm Walking with the Moonbeams (Talking to the Stars)" and "Take Everything But You" for Song of Love. The couple had one child, Herbert Baker. Abraham's death in 1931 had a profound effect on Baker. For more than a year afterwords she restricted her performing to radio. On September 21, 1937, she married Elias H. Sugarman, editor of the theatrical trade magazine, Billboard. The couple divorced in 1941.

Baker died of a heart attack on April 25, 1957 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles. She is buried in the Abrahams mausoleum in Mount Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.



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