Ann Baker (August 21, 1915-August 29, 1999) sang with with some of the biggest names in the jazz and became known as “Charleston’s First Lady of Jazz.” Baker grew up in Washington, Pennsylvania. She got her start singing in Pittsburgh jazz clubs, and by 1941, she had been discovered by Louis Armstrong and made her Broadway debut with his band. She later joined big bands led by Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. In 1946, she landed her signature gig, replacing Sarah Vaughan in Billy Eckstine’s band. Known as “The Dream Band,” the lineup included at times jazz legends Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey and Dexter Gordon. During her tenure with Eckstine, Baker was also featured singing “I Cried For You” in the 1946 film Rhythm in a Riff.
As big bands went out of vogue toward the end of the 1940s, Baker retired from the road and married Charleston tennis star and restaurateur Delaney “Wag” Wagner, who owned Wag’s Barbecue, a downtown hot spot. While in Charleston, Baker continued to perform with local combos like The Earl Tate Trio, The Francis Taylor Trio, and the Billy J Trio, which featured Hubert “Rabbit” Jones on bass. The couple also started a West Side club called The Shalamar where Baker sat in with a succession of big names from Nat King Cole to pianist Errol Garner. Before integration, the club attracted Charleston’s elite, including lawyers, doctors, and politicians. During the 1970s, Baker was a regular at the West Virginia Jazz Festival, performed several times on Mountain Stage, and later had a jazz series at Charleston’s Multifest named in her honor.
Baker died in Charleston. She was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
This Article was written by Michael Lipton
Last Revised on September 25, 2012