Anita Baker is a sophisticated jazz vocalist with a string of hits from the late 1980s and early 1990s. A six time Grammy winner, in 1994, with success assured, Baker cut back her activities to focus on home and motherhood, in the process revealing something of the intense difficulties she faced during her own youth. Then, after a ten year hiatus from the business, she made a triumphal return with a new album that met with critical acclaim.
She was born on January 26, 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, and grew up in Detroit's inner city. Her birth mother, who was only 16 when Anita was born, abandoned her, leaving her in the care of a woman who has been variously described as a friend and as a relative; this woman, Mary Lewis, became her foster mother. When Anita was 13, her foster mother died, and an older sister in her adoptive family told her the truth about her past. This older adoptive sister, Lois Landry, raised Anita.
Baker's foster family provided her with a stable environment that emphasized hard work and religion; she joined a church choir and identified with the deep voice of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. She began to sing secular music with her friends as well, and was performing in Detroit clubs by the time she was 16. Baker attended a community college briefly, but a strong drive toward musical performance asserted itself, and she dropped out of school to front a funk ensemble called Chapter 8, whose bass player had heard her perform in an East Side nightclub.