DICK TWO TON BAKER
The Music Maker of Chicago
And Two Ton didn't just play Santa Claus at the Blue Note. The club obviously thought enough of his skills at the keyboard to costar him with some of the biggest names in jazz. This playbill, probably from 1957, shows him with Gene Krupa and Dave Brubeck, presumably as an opening act or playing intermissions. Click on the image to see the full playbill, which includes Count Basie, George Shearing and Bob Scobey.
All Over Town
In addition to being nearly an around-the-clock presence on a major Chicago radio station, Dick Baker was constantly in front of the public at various events (it must be conceded, of course, that many of those events were sponsored by WGN or the Tribune, so it was certainly in the paper's interest to report faithfully on them and mention its own properties, including Two Ton Baker).
Late in 2009, Kraig Moreland, a historian working on a film documentary of the Lake Bluff (IL) Children's Orphanage, which operated from 1894 to 1969, learned that Two Ton Baker came to the orphanage frequently to entertain the children. The photo here (click on it to see more) was taken in 1945, showing that he already had a soft spot in his heart for kids even before he started recording children's songs or doing a kiddie TV show.
And Two Ton's orphanage connection became even more personal--and moving--in 2015 when a gentleman named Mark Williams made his way to this web site. He spent fifteen years in a Chicago orphanage, and to this day remembers Two Ton Baker as the star of a "spectacular day in my childhood."
A September 1949 piece in the Tribune notes, "On the air twice a day on WGN, Baker's unpredictable piano playing, songs, and chatter are entertainment highlights to a large and loyal audience. During a recent stage appearance at the Chicago Theater more than 700 persons by actual count turned away when they found that Baker would not appear that one day. So strong an attraction has he become that he will be costarred with singer Jo Stafford at the Chicago for two weeks starting Friday."
Two Ton seems especially to have lent his support to war-related activities. An August 1945 article in the Tribune, reporting that Two Ton would be the featured performer at the 16th Annual Chicago Music Festival at Soldiers' Field, states, "Baker has entertained at thousands of service camps, war hospitals, and bond rallies." A September 1948 story reported that "He holds the honorary rank of colonel, awarded him for his tireless work at Gardiner General hospital, where he spent more than 200 hours entertaining service men." Obviously, Two Ton's size made it impossible for him to put on the uniform, but he served--and served honorably.
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