With her classy, refined brand of romantic soul, Anita Baker was one of the definitive quiet storm singers of the ’80s. Gifted with a strong, supple alto, Baker was influenced not only by R&B, but jazz, gospel, and traditional pop, which gave her music a distinctly adult sophistication. Smooth and mellow, but hardly lifeless, it made her one of the most popular romantic singers of her time.
Baker was born January 26, 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in nearby Detroit, where she grew up listening to female jazz singers like Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and Ella Fitzgerald. At age 12, she began singing in a gospel choir, and by age 16 she was performing with several local bands. In 1975, she successfully auditioned for Chapter 8, one of Detroit’s most popular acts at the time; the group eventually signed with Ariola and released an album in 1979, but was immediately dropped when the label was acquired by Arista (which didn’t care for Baker‘s vocals). Chastened, Baker worked low-paying jobs in Detroit and eventually found steady work as a receptionist at a law firm. In 1982, Otis Smith — an executive who’d worked with Chapter 8 — contacted Baker about recording for his new label, Beverly Glen. Happy with her employment benefits and skittish over the experience with Arista, Baker was reluctant at first, but eventually flew out to the West Coast to record her debut album, The Songstress, in 1983. Though it didn’t gain quite enough exposure to become a hit, it did help Baker build a strong fan base through word-of-mouth, and she was signed by Elektra in 1985.
Following Compositions, Baker took a break from recording and touring; after having her first son in 1993, she returned to the studio to craft Rhythm of Love, which was released in 1994. In the years that followed, Baker was mostly silent, despite her fans’ clamoring for a jazz album; instead, she raised her family and became embroiled in contract disputes with Elektra, which eventually led her to move to Atlantic. She began working on a new album in 2000, but had to start over from scratch due to defective recording equipment that made the original tracks unsalvageable. In 2004 it was announced that she had signed with Blue Note and was still working on her new album. In the meantime, the Atlantic imprint Rhino released Night of Rapture: Live, a 1987 concert originally available on video. Baker finally returned to the studio in 2003 and issued My Everything, her first album in ten years. Two years later she released her first holiday album, Christmas Fantasy. The 2012 return single “Lately,” a Tyrese cover, received a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Traditional R&B Performance. Its parent album, Only Forever, was prepared for 2013.