Edythe Baker - Muses & the Beau Monde
Edythe A. Baker, born August 25, 1899, was an American jazz pianist. For a more detailed account of her life then read the article on Ragpiano.com by Bill Edwards, which was so full of detail that I found it overwhelming. I will simply share a short overview of her life and selected pieces of her music all alongside some of her wonderful portraits.
Baker was born in Girard, Kansas to Asa and Sophronia Baker. After her mother died around 1910 she was sent to Kansas City, Missouri to live, and attended a convent. There she was trained in piano fundamentals, eventually working for a music store.
After touring with a vaudeville troupe in 1918, Edythe moved to New York City in 1919. There she made piano rolls (a music storage medium used to operate a player piano) for Aeolian and Duo-Art pianos, between 1919 and 1926; these included ragtime and pop pieces. Below is a music roll song called Manhattan that was in the Garrick Gayeties of 1925, and was the first big hit for Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The roll is played by Edythe Baker the first page reading "This Music Roll is my interpretation. It was recorded by me for the Duo-Art and I hearby authorise its use with that instrument. Edythe Baker."
She worked on Broadway in musicals and performed with vaudeville troupes such as the Ziegfeld Follies. Below is a piece called Gershwin Medley, from 1923.
In 1926, Baker relocated to England, and recorded twenty two pieces there between 1927 and 1933. She became a star after appearing in the revues of 1927.
She married into the banking family of Gerard d'Erlanger in 1928, making the cover of the Sketch in the same year described as "a pianist of syncopated brilliance." She made the covers of several magazines during the early 1930s for her marriage and her talent as a musician, from articles in fashion magazines, announcements for her performances to AMICA, the news bulletin of the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association.
Edythe left the music industry after the mid 1930s. After divorcing d'Erlanger, she romanced the Duke of Kent, making more headlines. Baker returned to the United States in the late 1940s, at one point settling in Laguna, California and enjoying a quiet life of bridge and gardening.
Little was heard of her until her death in Orange, California in 1971. A selection of Baker's piano rolls, recorded by Dave Jasen, were reissued on an album released by Folkways Records in 1983.
Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations
Below is a rare roll on the Voltem label where Edythe Baker plays "Dreaming Blues" on a Concert Grand. It's a bit like her ghost is playing the piano. Her very, very talented ghost.