Born on January 26, 1958 in Toledo, OH; abandoned by birth mother at age two and raised in Detroit, MI; married Walter Bridgforth, December 24, 1988; children: two sons, Walter Jr. and Eddie. Education: Attended community college in Detroit, MI. Addresses: Record company--Blue Note Records, 150 Fifth Ave., 6th Fl., New York, NY 10011. Website--Anita Baker Official Website: http://www.anitabaker.org.
Anita Baker's rich and entirely distinctive alto voice has invited comparisons that range beyond the world of contemporary pop to include mention of such legendary jazz figures as Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. One of the leading performers in the field of sophisticated black adult pop in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she waged a successful battle to take control of her career and realize her artistic vision. In the 1990s, with her stardom assured, Baker cut back her activities to focus on home and motherhood--in the process revealing something of the intense difficulties she faced during her own youth. Baker took an extended hiatus from music beginning in 1994 but returned in 2004, picking up right where she left off.
Baker was born on January 26, 1958 in Toledo, Ohio, and grew up in Detroit's inner city. Her birth mother, a substance abuser who was only 16 when Anita was born, abandoned her when she was two years old, leaving her in the care of friend named Mary Lewis. Lewis died when Anita was 13, and an older sister in her adoptive family told her the truth about her past. Baker made the conscious decision to meet her birth mother for the first time.
Feelings of Abandonment
Much later, in an interview with Essence, Baker recalled how she tried to cope with this discovery: "That child believed her mother abandoned her," she said (referring to herself), "because there was something bad about her. Something terrible that made her unlovable. And until Walter [Baker's future husband], that is how I felt about me--that I was not good enough. Not good, period." Baker's new foster parents, beautician Lois Landry and her husband Walter, provided her with a stable environment that emphasized hard work and religion; she joined a church choir and identified with the deep voice of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. She began to sing secular music with her friends as well, and she was performing in Detroit clubs by the time she was 16. Baker attended a community college briefly, but a strong drive toward musical performance asserted itself, and she dropped out of school to front a funk ensemble called Chapter 8 whose bass player had heard her perform in an East Side nightclub.
Chapter 8 toured widely and landed a contract with Los Angeles-based Ariola Records. They had a minor hit with "I Just Want to Be Your Girl" in 1980, but disbanded after being dropped from the label, which was itself in dire financial straits. Label executives offered the assessment that Baker lacked star quality. Later on Baker correctly concluded that their criticism could have masked any number of reasons that might through no fault of their own led to the group's dismissal, but at the time she was shattered by the turn of events. She returned to Detroit, worked as a waitress, and then landed a stable position as a receptionist with a law firm whose members, understandably enough, liked the sound of her voice on the phone.
Baker was only with difficulty coaxed back into music by a former Ariola executive who started an independent label, Beverly Glen, in 1982 in Los Angeles. Promising to make Baker a star, he offered to match her receptionist's salary, and Baker finally agreed to come to Los Angeles. Her first solo album The Songstress, was released in 1983. The album attracted wide industry attention, yielded two R&B hit singles (the sultry "Angel" and the gospel-drenched "No More Tears," which did indeed bring to mind the voice of Mahalia Jackson), and it sold a respectable 300,000 copies. But Baker, still unschooled in the frequently unscrupulous ways of the music business, received no royalties from the album and parted ways acrimoniously with Beverly Glen, a much-needed follow-up album still unreleased.
Released Rapture LP
Hiring as her manager Sherwin Bash, a Hollywood veteran with the smarts to clear up the resulting legal problems, Baker signed with the Elektra label and threw herself wholeheartedly into her next project, the album Rapture, released in 1986. Gaining a reputation as pushy but consistently moving to gain control over her career, Baker supervised every aspect of the record's production. Filling the role of executive producer herself, a nearly unprecedented move for a rising but untested star, Baker chose Songstress collaborator Michael Powell as producer, and the two painstakingly selected songs that fit Baker's smooth, ultra-romantic, jazz-inflected vocal stylings. They succeeded brilliantly. The album yielded two massive hit singles in both R&B and pop tabulations, "Sweet Love" and "You Bring Me Joy." Baker's voice, low, intimate, and rounded, yet filled with a gospel-derived intensity that manifested itself in sudden bursts of strong feeling, became familiar to a wide public. The singer was rewarded with two Grammy awards in 1987, and by the end of 1988 Rapture had racked up sales of over five million units.
Baker stretched herself with an appearance at Europe's prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in 1988, but the two albums that followed Rapture, Giving You the Best That I Got (1988) and Compositions (1990), followed basically the same path as their multiplatinum predecessor. Compositions featured examples of Baker's songwriting, which had gained in technical skill since she had begun to take classes in music theory. The album gained for Baker the respect of jazz musicians, and caused some critics, such as Alex Henderson of the All Music Guide, to suggest that she should record an album of straight jazz. Both recordings again earned Grammy awards for Baker, who kept up a grueling schedule of concerts and personal appearances. After one Detroit nightclub gig, Baker was greeted on her way to her dressing room by a persistent admirer who bought six copies of her album and asked her for a hug and then a date. She and Walter Bridgforth were married on Christmas Eve of 1988.
Suffered Two Miscarriages
Exhausted from touring and from the pressures of her high-profile career, Baker suffered two miscarriages as she and Bridgforth attempted to start a family. "I sort of came apart " Baker told Essence. "All my old negative feelings reemerged. I felt like such a failure." Finally Baker retreated to the sumptuous home she shares with Bridgforth in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, outside Detroit--one of a group of structures originally owned by the Dodge family of automaking fame. She enlisted the help of medical specialists and is now the mother of two sons.
Baker reemerged in 1994 with the Rhythm of Love album, which followed up on a series of revelatory interviews in which Baker finally delved into her own painful past. The album received mixed reviews, but the singer's popularity was little diminished by her four years out of the spotlight. In 1996 Baker once again came into conflict with industry figures, filing lawsuits against her record label, Elektra, her management, and her legal staff. She won the right to move to the Atlantic label at the end of the year. Baker's stylistic influence could clearly be heard in the voices of younger contemporaries such as Toni Braxton, and Baker retained a place in the hearts of many fans as one of the finest vocalists of her generation even as tastes in urban music turned toward raunchier, hip-hop oriented sounds.
As she so often had before, Baker faced a period of adversity before she finally found her way back to music. Marital difficulties flared between Baker and Bridgforth, who owned and operated a successful International House of Pancakes franchise on Detroit's Jefferson Avenue. They worked through their problems, but Baker also became involved with caring for her ailing foster parents, Walter and Lois Landry. She was especially hard hit by the death in 2002 of Lois Landry, whom she told People she referred to as her "earth mother," and she was still raising two growing boys. She wasn't willing to do anything that smacked of abandoning them as she herself had been abandoned.
Unable to focus on her music, Baker was dropped by Atlantic. "The two---my life and my music---would not coexist. They simply would not," she told Essence. After a period of mourning, though, she was seized with the desire to perform again. And she began to hear the music of younger "neo-soul" singers like Jill Scott and India.Arie---performers whose own music harked back to the sound of Baker's own. "I called my agent and I said, 'You know, I need to do something,'" she told Essence. Booked into a 3,000-seat theater on New York's Long Island, Baker performed for two sellout crowds and was moved by the positive reception she got from fans who had stuck with her over a decade of inactivity.
In 2004 Baker was signed to a two-album contact by the jazz-oriented Blue Note label; the plan was for her to record an album of urban contemporary music followed by another in a jazz vein. The former disc, My Everything, was released late in 2004 to strong sales and positive reviews. "The passionate Anita Baker and her rich talent are back in stride, and perhaps all will be right with the music world again," gushed Ebony reviewer Lynn Norment. Baker herself, in an Essence interview, attributed her renewed success to her determination to make music only when she could give it her all. "I've come to understand that I'm a monomaniacal person," she told the magazine. "I do one thing at a time. ... And when I'm true to that, I'm at my best, even in a bad situation. I'm in this for the live exchange that happens with music. Otherwise, it's like making love to a corpse."
by Jenny Bleier and James M. Manheim
Anita Baker's Career
Sang as a teenager in Detroit nightclubs, mid-1970s; joined group Chapter 8, late 1970s; signed with Beverly Glen label and released The Songstress, 1983; signed with Elektra and released Rapture, 1986; released albums Giving You the Best That I Got, 1988, Compositions, 1990, and Rhythm of Love, 1994; contributed songs as composer to all these recordings; cut back on performing to devote herself to family life, 1990s; signed with Atlantic label, 1996; signed with Blue Note label; released My Everything, 2004.
Anita Baker's Awards
Grammy Awards, Best Rhythm & Blues Song, 1986; Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, 1986; Best Soul Gospel Performance By A Duo, Group, Choir Or Chorus (with The Winans), 1987; Best Rhythm & Blues Song, 1988; Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, 1988-1990; Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, 1995.
- Selected discography
- The Songstress Beverly Glen, 1983.
- Rapture Elektra, 1986.
- Giving You the Best That I Got Elektra, 1988.
- Compositions Elektra, 1990.
- Rhythm of Love Elektra, 1994.
- My Everything Blue Note, 2004.
October 4, 2005: Baker's holiday album, Christmas Fantasy, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, October 7, 2005.
- Erlewine, Michael, et al., editors, All Music Guide to Rock, 2nd ed., Miller Freeman, 1997.
- Graff, Gary, Josh Freedom du Lac, and Jim McFarlin, editors, MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink, 1998.
- Smith, Jessie Carney, editor, Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1996.
- Billboard, October 26, 1996, p. 26.
- Ebony, September 1994, p. 44; October 2004, p. 42; November 2004, p. 158.
- Essence, December 1994, p. 80; October 2004, p. 158.
- Jet, March 13, 1995, p. 60; June 19, 1995, p. 33.
- Newsweek, September 13, 2004, p. 58.
- People, October 10, 1994, p. 77; September 13, 2004, p. 91.