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American singer LaVern Baker helped pioneer the R&B sound in the 1950s and released multiple hits with Atlantic Records, including the famous "Tweedle Dee."
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By 1953, Baker felt ready to strike out on her own as a solo artist. Rather than making her solo debut in the United States, Baker embarked on a several month European tour, primarily in Italy, where she was quite popular. Upon her return to America later that year, Baker signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records, the label of the R&B pioneer Ruth Brown. Her impassioned first single, "Soul on Fire"—which foreshadowed the sultry, passionate vocals for which she later became famous—failed to attract much attention at the time but has since been celebrated as a classic of the early R&B sound. In October 1954, Baker recorded her breakthrough hit "Tweedle Dee," a coy, simple and upbeat song that was a smash hit for the duration of 1955.
However, Baker was robbed of much of the song's potential success by a practice often referred to as "whitewashing," in which white singers covered the songs of black artists without permission and made huge profits because racist radio stations and record stores would only promote the cover versions. Only a few weeks after Baker released "Tweedle Dee," the white singer Georgia Gibbs, who made a career out of uncredited covers of black artists' songs, recorded a version that won wide radio airplay and went on to sell over 1 million copies. Gibbs would later also cover Baker's hit songs "Tra La La" and "Jim Dandy." At one point, Baker got so frustrated with Gibbs that she sent her a life insurance policy with a note that read, "If anything happens to me, you're out of business."
Baker followed "Tweedle Dee" with a string of popular hits such as "Play It Fair," "Bop-Ting-A-Ling," and "Tra-La-La," which was featured in the low budget 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock. She raised her national profile in 1955 when she appeared as part of a 15-minute R&B segment on The Ed Sullivan Show.
During the latter half of the 1950s, as rock and roll emerged as pop music's dominant genre, Baker released another string of hit songs that featured a distinctive rock and roll backbeat and established her as one of the first great divas of the style. These rock hits included "Jim Dandy," "Jim Dandy Got Married" and "Humpty Dumpty Heart." In September 1958, Baker released "I Cried a Tear," her most serious single in years. It would become her most commercially successful and critically acclaimed song.
Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, Baker continued to churn out hits. Her most notable songs from this period include "So High, So Low" (1959), "Saved" (1961) and "See See Rider" (1962). However, the early 1960s witnessed a complete overhaul of the popular music scene as artists such as The Supremes, The Temptations and The Beatles suddenly supplanted "oldies" R&B artists like Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker. In 1965, Baker left Atlantic for Brunswick Records but went on to record only a few minor hits such as "Think Twice" (1966) and "Wrapped, Tied and Tangled" (1967).
In 1966, LaVern Baker traveled to Vietnam for a USO tour to entertain American troops.
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