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B.J. Baker, 74; Backed Top Singers of '50s, '60s

Obituaries

April 13, 2002|RICHARD CROMELIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

B.J. Baker, a backup singer on dozens of recordings from the 1950s and '60s, including hits by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke and Bobby Darin, died April 2 in Rancho Mirage of complications from a stroke. She was 74.

In addition to her work at the microphone, Baker was a highly regarded vocal contractor--a person who selects and directs background singers for recording sessions. She also appeared on several '60s television shows, provided voices for cartoons and married three high-profile entertainment figures--actor Mickey Rooney, composer Buddy Baker and jazz guitarist Barney Kessel.

Born Betty Jane Phillips in Birmingham, Ala., she sang in big bands and had her own local radio show at age 14. She caught Rooney's eye when she represented Alabama in the 1944 Miss America contest, and they married the same year. The couple divorced in 1947. She was married to Baker, who became head of the Walt Disney Co. music department, from 1950 to 1957, and to Kessel from 1961 to 1980. Those marriages also ended in divorce.

Among the records Baker sang on were Presley's "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You," Lloyd Price's "Stagger Lee," Cooke's "You Send Me," Jackie Wilson's "Baby Workout," Sinatra's "That's Life," Darin's "Dream Lover" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."

She also dubbed the vocal for actress Nancy Kwan on "I Enjoy Being a Girl" in the movie "Flower Drum Song," and she was a regular on Dean Martin's and Judy Garland's television variety shows.

Baker is survived by sons Tim and Mickey Rooney Jr. and stepsons Dan and David Kessel.

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