She was born Delores LaVern Baker in Chicago, Illinois. She is occasionally referred to as Delores Williams because of an early marriage to Eugene Williams; in the late 1940s he was identified in RCA Victor record company files as “D. L. McMurley.” She was the niece of blues singer Merline Johnson and was also related to Memphis Minnie.
She began singing in Chicago clubs such as the Club DeLisa around 1946, often billed as Little Miss Sharecropper, and first recorded under that name in 1949. She changed her name briefly to Bea Baker when recording for Okeh Records in 1951, and then became LaVern Baker when singing with Todd Rhodes and his band in 1952.
In 1953 she signed for Atlantic Records as a solo artist, her first release being “Soul on Fire”. Her first hit came in early 1955, with the Latin-tempo “Tweedlee Dee” reaching #4 on the R&B chart and #14 on the national US pop charts. Georgia Gibbs scored the bigger hit with her version of “Tweedle Dee”, for which Baker unsuccessfully attempted to sue her. LaVern did manage to get in a jab, however. When LaVern was flying to Australia, she took out flight insurance at the airport and sent it to Gibbs with a note: “You need this more than I do because if anything happens to me, you’re out of business.”