by Len Lear
“Smokey, soulful and captivating.”
That is how Dana Baker has often been described by her growing legion of fans. The 24-year-old West Philly resident, who has developed a loyal following during her frequent visits to Paris Bistro’s subterranean jazz club, will perform there again on Saturday, July 20, with sets starting at 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m.
Baker, who will be backed by the highly-regarded Doc Redd & The League Of Heirz, is a graduate of the Simon Gratz Mastery Charter who went to Xavier University in New Orleans after that.
“Oddly enough,” she said, “I started school at Xavier as a Biology pre-med major, then changed my major to Sociology …
“I was definitely self-taught the first 20 years of my life, and then at Xavier I began studying classical music. My first voice teacher was Dr. Ware, and he was hard, but he laid a pretty great foundation. Since then, I’ve had more classical training in preparation for opera auditions but no formal long-term training.”
Baker has closely studied singers from Jessye Norman, Grace Bambrey and Shirley Verrett to Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, India Arie and Laurin Talese. “Laurin Talese is probably the most phenomenal singer I’ve seen live. Her breath control and tone are pure perfection, and her stage presence is dynamic.”
A few years ago, Baker began getting paid gigs that were small, mostly private, but she didn’t have a band, so she began auditioning for the theater. She sang in an opera in New Orleans called “An Embarrassing Position,” by Dan Shore, who is preparing to debut a full production of another opera he wrote called “Freedom Ride” with the Chicago Opera next year.
Baker used to sing most Thursday nights at Tavern on Camac, a gay club in center city.
“They were usually pretty full on Thursday nights downstairs at the piano bar you had Nile with a bar full of talented singers, and upstairs you had a free drag show with the lovely Cleophatra.”
Since creating her own band, however, and working with her church choir, Baker joined Sharnelle Blain and Divine Purpose, a local gospel group. She also has performed at Paris Bistro nine times, “and each one has been amazing. The energy is great, and the audience is always amazing.”
Baker has also performed at GreenSoul, WarmDaddys, the Rotunda, Silk City, The Liacoras Center and The Hive, among others.
What was the hardest thing Baker ever had to do?
“Probably walk away from my job as a Street Outreach Worker for a non-profit organization that worked with unstably housed youth.”
What is the best advice she ever received?
“The one thing that’s hit me the hardest and stuck is probably ‘Make sure everything you do connects to your ultimate goal, to whatever vision you have for yourself. And make sure it gives you peace so that no one can sway you from it.’ That probably has influenced how I move and operate more than anything else.”
What is Baker’s greatest regret, if any?
“I guess something really hard for me to deal with is that I let myself get sidetracked and stopped pursuing music.”
Which talent that Baker does not have would she most like to have?
“I would love to know how to dance. I think movement is so beautiful, but aside from a few moves here and there, I am literally an awkward mess when it comes to dancing.”
If Baker could live anywhere on earth, where would it be?
“Right now I’m where I want to be and can’t imagine living anywhere other than Philly. In a few years I do hope to have the opportunity to spend more time traveling, specifically in the South.”
What is Baker’s most impressive characteristic?
“I would have to say my resilience.”
If she could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be?
“Kamasi Washington. He’s a phenomenal saxophone player, but more than that, his music touches me on a spiritual level, and how he moves is so graceful.”
Are there any family members that Baker would like to mention?
“To the Barnes family and the Dash family, thank you, and I love you. Corrie Gonzalez, I appreciate you and all of your support and sacrifice. Doc Redd, you already know we’re partners, and we elevate together. Always.”
For more information, call 215-242-6200 or visit ParisBistro.net. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org