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Former Baker’s Keyboard Lounge Owner Dies

Clarence Baker, the longtime owner of Detroit’s famed Keyboard Lounge, passed away Sunday, September 28. He was 93.

Baker, who inherited the intimate restaurant from his father, Christopher, transformed it into one of the foremost jazz clubs in the country. Almost 70 years later the club is still the venue in Detroit for the biggest jazz talents in the world earning it the distinction of being the oldest jazz club in the world.

Baker was born on Feb. 22, 1910, in Jackson, Tenn. Though his father opened the restaurant in 1934, it was the younger Baker who suggested a piano be added to boost interest in the restaurant and improve business at night. Within a few years the nightclub became a prominent venue for jazz during its hey-day in the ’50s and ’60s, booking top talent each week.

Seating about 100 people, with enviable acoustics, and an even more enviable talent roster, the club has longtime been a favorite of jazz aficionados. Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Max Roach, Cannonball Adderley, Oscar Peterson, Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell and Stan Getz are just a few of the more notable players to grace the bandstand of the intimate nightclub. In addition, performing at the legendary nightclub has long been considered a rite of passage for up-and-coming Detroit musicians.

The club experienced financial difficulties due to Detroit’s diminishing economy and, with personal health problems beginning to mount, Baker was forced to leave his business. But each time the new owner ran into problems, Baker returned to help the club get back on its feet.

But on the night of the club’s 62nd anniversary, in 1996, Baker announced his last retirement, selling the jazz club to Juanita Jackson and her partner John Colbert. The club remains devoted to jazz and a fixture in the Detroit community.

Baker is survived by his wife.

To learn more about the Keyboard Lounge and browse its impressive schedule, visit www.bakerskeyboard.com.

Originally Published