Anni Baker, Singer, Ally To Composers

Posted: May 11, 1999

Anni Baker, 55, a former Broadway and classical singer whose work with composers helped to fatten the contemporary-music catalog, died yesterday at her Philadelphia home after a 5 1/2-year struggle with breast cancer.

Under the name Annie Rachel, she performed in lead and supporting roles in Broadway and off-Broadway productions. She worked in Las Vegas, opening for Gordon MacRae, Forrest Tucker and Joe Williams, and appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show, The Merv Griffin Show, Today, and Arthur Godfrey's radio show.

But Philadelphians knew her as Anni Baker, a singer who moved to the area 10 years ago from New York and began commissioning music.

Ms. Baker worked with the Network for New Music, Orchestra 2001, and the Settlement Music School, funding new works from Libby Larsen, Bernard Rands, Cynthia Folio, James Primosch, Mario Davidovsky and Augusta Read Thomas.

``She had an enormous effect,'' said Richard C. Brodhead, an associate professor of composition at Temple University.

Music became more than a profession and enthusiasm for Ms. Baker. After her diagnosis of cancer, it became therapy.

``Music was something that has given her more solace these past few years than any chemo or medication,'' said David Wolman, Baker's husband of 28 years. ``She was at every orchestra concert, every chamber music concert, every contemporary music concert she could get to.''

Musicians learned to look for her - and her flamboyant hats and earnings - in front rows.

Ms. Baker, born in Cleveland and raised in St. Louis, left home at 16 for the lure of summer stock. Soon she moved to New York and attended the Manhattan School of Music. Work in the theater forced her to leave the school, Wolman said.

Eventually, Ms. Baker did earn a degree - summa cum laude - in music therapy from Temple University in 1993.

A year ago, Ms. Baker began working with Astral Artistic Services, a nonprofit group that assists young musicians with their careers, to establish a cash award to be given biennially to a promising musician under age 35. The first Anni Baker Astral Prize is to go to a singer in 2001; Philadelphia Orchestra music director Wolfgang Sawallisch will chair the jury.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Baker is survived by her parents, Richard and Martha Baker; two sisters; and a brother.

Services will be private.

Donations in her memory may be made to one of the groups with which Baker worked: the Network for New Music, Astral Artistic Services, Orchestra 2001, the Settlement Music School, and the Esther Boyer College of Music at Temple University.

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