Born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Anita Baker began singing in a Baptist church choir at the age of twelve. Four years later, while singing with the band Humanity, Baker was approached by bass player David Washington of Chapter 8 to audition for the group.
In 1975, Baker subsequently joined Chapter 8, the most popular group of Detroit at the time. They spent a couple of years playing in and around Detroit and eventually signed a record deal with Ariola. The self-titled album came out in fall 1979, with two singles hitting the R&B charts - “Ready for Your Love” and “I Just Wanna Be Your Girl”. The label Ariola Records later ran into financial trouble and the company was purchased by Arista, whose executives refused to renew Chapter 8’s record deal while Baker was a part of the group. After being rejected, Baker went back home to Detroit and got a job as a receptionist for a local law firm.
In 1981, Otis Smith, the man behind Chapter 8’s contract, formed his own label, Beverly Glen. Remembering Baker’s vocals, he got her telephone number from a Chapter 8 member and called her in late 1982. Baker refused the job at first due to her duties as a receptionist. However, she agreed to sign with the label and try again with a music career. It would prove to be a smart move.
In 1983, Baker released her debut album, The Songstress. This album was a moderate success, which paved the way for a host of bigger things to come; two of the album’s singles, “Angel” and “No More Tears”, became smash hits on the R&B charts. By the spring of 1984, Baker had five chart hits and was close to a gold record. However, there was no answer when she asked Beverly Glen about a new album.
In 1985, Baker got a major label contract with Elektra Records, a division of Warner Music Group. She released her second album, Rapture, in 1986. Choosing her friend from Chapter 8, Michael J. Powell, as her producer, they created a masterpiece. It was this album which established Anita Baker as a world-wide musical tour de force and a household name. It was also this album that afforded her the opportunity to stretch her skills; she wrote “Been So Long”, “Watch Your Step” and “Sweet Love”, which along with “Caught Up in the Rapture”, “No One in the World”, and “Same Ole Love” became major R&B and Adult Contemporary chart hits during 1986 and 1987, with “Sweet Love” becoming a top ten pop hit as well. By the time Rapture had completed its chart run, it had sold eight million copies worldwide and also earned Baker two Grammys.
In November 1986 when she was returning to Detroit to receive the key of the city, she got engaged to Walter Bridgeforth Jr. whom she’d met on an earlier trip home in January. They were married on Christmas Eve 1987.
In 1987, Baker collaborated with The Winans on the single “Ain’t No Need to Worry” and this single lead Baker to her third Grammy award. At the same time, she also worked on her follow-up album Giving You the Best That I Got in between a busy performance schedule. This album was released in October 1988. She worked with Michael J. Powell again, and the album became a critical and commercial success, which sold another five million copies worldwide. It features such hits as “Just Because” and the title track, which became Baker’s biggest pop hit, reaching Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100 while going to number one R&B and Adult Contemporary. Critics noted that, single-handedly, through her first two albums, “Anita Baker has set a new standard and helped redefine the sound of contemporary music recorded by female vocalists in the ‘80s and the ‘90s.”
Baker returned to the studio in 1990 for her third Elektra album, Compositions. On it, Anita wanted to be more involved in song writing and wished to experiment with jazz. Baker wrote seven of the songs on this album, including the hits “Talk to Me”, “Fairy Tales”, “No One to Blame”, and “Whatever It Takes” (written with Gerald Levert) and “Soul Inspiration”. The album was mostly cut live, meaning that the rhythm section was playing as Baker sang. The album was produced by Michael J. Powell and included musicians Greg Philinganes, Nathan East, Paulinho da Costa, Vernon Fails, Ricky Lawson and Stephen Ferrone. Baker’s involvement in the whole recording process gave the album a personal touch and for the effort she received her seventh Grammy award.
Though the three singles from Compositions all failed to reach Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart (“Talk to Me” came closest to the top 40, at Number 44 pop), they still became Top 20 hits on the R&B Singles Chart and were also moderate Adult Contemporary hits. Compositions peaked at Number Five on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, Number Three on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Number Four on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums, and still was certified Platinum by RIAA.
After almost five years of touring, performing, and recording non-stop, Anita took a break, only entering the studio to record the jazz standard “Witchcraft” with Frank Sinatra for his 1993 Duets album.
In January 1993, Baker gave birth to her first child, a boy named Walter Baker Bridgeforth. Five months later Baker started working on her fifth album, and during the recording sessions she became pregnant again. In May 1994, with most of the album completed, Baker gave birth to a second son, Edward Carlton Bridgeforth.
Her fifth album, Rhythm of Love, was issued in September of 1994. After she ended the partnership with Michael J. Powell, Anita produced most of the album. However, this time many famous producers like George Duke, Arif Mardin, Barry Eastmond and Tommy Lipuma also contributed to the album. Rhythm of Love was mainly recorded in Baker’s home due to her pregnancy, and she wrote five out of twelve songs. She selected “My Funny Valentine” to be the last song, a song that proves that Anita should do an all-jazz album in many fans’ opinion.
This album sold exceptionally well, selling one million copies in its first week; peaked at Number Three on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and Number One on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. The first single, “Body and Soul,” became Baker’s first top 40 pop hit in over five years. It was certified double platinum by RIAA and received her eighth Grammy for the second single, “I Apologize”, for best Rhythm and Blues vocal performance female in 1995.
After the Rhythm of Love album, Baker spent most of her time with her family. She appeared in a jazz-influenced soundtrack to the Billy Crystal directed 1995 film Forget Paris. For this movie, Baker paired with popular Pop/R&B crooner James Ingram to record “When You Love Someone”, which is produced by David Foster, and was also written with Foster, Carole Bayer Sager and Ingram. The song was nominated for a Grammy award, however, lost out in its category. She also recorded the theme song to the NBC television hit show “Mad About You” with its star Paul Riser. The vocal performance of the shows theme was jazzy and slower than the original. The song was put on a “Mad About You” CD which may still be available.
In August 2000, Baker began to record her long-awaited new album. However, in May 2001, she had filed a lawsuit in federal court against an audio equipment rental company she said ruined some tracks recorded for her new album. She alleged that a 24-track tape machine she rented produced random popping noises. Due to the delay of the new album, Atlantic Records parted ways with her in December 2001. Rhino Records released her compilation, The Best of Anita Baker, on June 18, 2002, and the international version had different tracks and title, Sweet Love: The Very Best of Anita Baker. On May 3, 2004 this compilation was certified gold by RIAA.
Two years later, in March 2004, Blue Note Records announced that they had signed Baker to an exclusive recording contract that would result in at least two albums. Bruce Lundvall, president/CEO of EMI Jazz & Classics, signed her after she approached him to record for Blue Note. At the same time Rhino Records released A Night of Rapture: Live, a compilation that contains nine live tracks and three multimedia videos recorded in the late ‘80s.
In September, after a decade, Anita Baker finally released her long-awaited original album My Everything. Co-Produced by Barry J. Eastmond and Baker herself, she wrote or co-wrote nine of this album’s ten tracks, including a duet with Babyface, “Like You Used To Do.” Though she had been out of the limelight for so long, this album became a critical and commercial success. It debuted at Number Four on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and Number One on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. The album was certified gold by the RIAA for sales of 500,000 copies.
In October 2005, she released her first Christmas album, Christmas Fantasy. Once again produced by Baker and Barry J. Eastmond, the album mixes traditional Christmas carols (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”), standards (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”), re-imagined classics (“Frosty’s Rag”), Broadway show tunes (“My Favorite Things”), and three new songs by Baker and Eastmond (“Moonlight Sleighride”, “Family of Man”, and “Christmas Fantasy”), all tied together with Baker’s warm, rapturous voice. She received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance in 2007 for the song “Christmas Time is Here.” To date, Anita Baker has four Platinum albums and three Gold albums.