Anita Denise Baker (born January 26, 1958) is an American singer-songwriter. Starting her career in the late-1970s with the funk band Chapter 8, Baker eventually released her first solo album, The Songstress, in 1983. In 1986, she rose to stardom following the release of her platinum-selling second album, Rapture, which included the Grammy-winning single “Sweet Love”. To date, Baker has won eight Grammy Awards and has five platinum albums and one gold album to her credit. Baker’s vocal range is contralto.
Anita Baker was born on January 26, 1958 in Toledo, Ohio. When she was two, her mother abandoned her and Baker was raised by a foster family in Detroit, Michigan. When Baker was twelve, her foster parents died and her foster sister raised her afterwards. By the time Baker was sixteen, she began singing R&B at Detroit nightclubs. After one performance, she was discovered by bandleader David Washington, who gave her a card to audition for the funk band, Chapter 8.
Baker joined the group in 1975 and the group toured relentlessly until securing a deal with Ariola Records in 1979. The group’s first album, Chapter 8, was released that year and featured the singles “Ready for Your Love”, a duet between Baker and band mate Gerald Lyles, and the Baker-led “I Just Want to Be Your Girl”. After Ariola was bought out by Arista Records in 1979, Chapter 8 was dropped by the label who were convinced that Baker, as the group’s lead singer, didn’t have “star potential”.
Early success: 1983-84
Baker returned to Detroit and became a waitress and a receptionist of a law firm. In 1982, Otis Smith, a former associate of Ariola, called Baker and convinced her to start a solo career under his Beverly Glen label. Baker eventually signed with the company, releasing her debut solo album, The Songstress, in 1983. The album produced four singles: “No More Tears” and its B-side, “Will You Be Mine”, “Angel” and “You’re the Best Thing Yet”. “Angel” became Baker’s first top ten single, reaching number five on the R&B charts in late 1983. “You’re the Best Thing Yet” followed it in the R&B top 40 early the following year. Despite this early success, Baker later complained that she hadn’t received any royalties from the work. In addition, the label delayed work on Baker’s follow-up of The Songstress. By 1984, Baker sought to leave the label after two years, but was sued by Smith for breach of contract in 1985. After months in court debating the matter, it was concluded that Baker should be allowed to record for other labels, resulting in winning the case against Smith.
Baker eventually signed with the Warner Music Group-associated label, Elektra Records, in 1985 and began working on her next album. Her Elektra contract allowed the singer to have creative control and produce her own music, something she wasn’t allowed to do at Beverly Glen. Baker eventually picked her old Chapter 8 band mate, songwriter and producer Michael J. Powell to work with her on her first Elektra album, though label execs were initially unhappy with her choice of Powell over more established producers.