Jane came home, went back to school, got a job driving a taxi on Long
Island, and at night she traveled into Manhattan to a comedy club, The
Improvisation, to be discovered. Her music was eclectic rock,
blues, rhythm-and-blues performed between comedy acts of Jay
Leno and Andy Kaufman. When she heard that a new club in Greenwich Village
was opening and needed girl singers, Baby Jane went to the owner, Lewis
Friedman, and asked to audition. She became his first opening act in
the Paradise Room of the famed Reno Sweeney, the club that was to feature
such up-and-coming young performers as Karen Akers, Peter Allen, Paul
Reiser, and of course Baby Jane Dexter.
the next few months, she zoomed to nightlife stardom, headlining in
Boston, Chicago, Miami, Washington, and Los Angeles as well as the hottest
New York nightspots. In addition, she expanded into television with
a featured spot in No Holds Barred, a CBS series. She also moved into
the theater, performing in plays like Anything Goes and The Music Man,
as well as portraying another great belter, Sophie Tucker.
know that my strength and my power are in the music
and in the connection between me and my audience."
while Baby Jane Dexter's career was blossoming, inside she held a secret.
In the early 70's, she met a handsome guy who paid her a lot of attention,
and although she had been warned to stay away from him, he made her
feel desirable, pretty, and sexy. This was before the term "date
rape" was even coined, but that was what happened to Baby Jane
Dexter who, like many other young women, tried to push the ordeal from
her mind. It wasn't until 1979 that she told songwriter Drey Shepperd
what had happened to her, and he convinced her to write the music to,
"Fifteen Ugly Minutes", a haunting song about the ordeal.
the satisfaction from writing the song, Baby Jane began a downhill slide
resulting in a ten-year hiatus from performing. At this time, in the
late '70's, music tastes were shifting, and record companies were not
comfortable with Baby Jane's personal style of music, revolving around
songs that spoke to her. They were interested in disco and punk.
was different and didn't fit easily into any category.
Although my audience was there, the label guys didn't know how to market
Jane only meant to step back for a couple of months, not a decade. In
1981, she found herself on a wagon train, traveling with VisionQuest,
a correctional covered wagon program for teenage criminals as an alternative
to prison. She was asked to join because Bob Burton, the executive director
of VisionQuest, had seen one of her New York shows and as he later said
in a Newsday account, "She has a strong presence about her. She's
intuitive and has a native ability to work with human beings."
comments proved true, not only for VisionQuest, but in her later counseling
and motivational programs. But first she had to go camping, something
-- to put it mildly -- she resisted. "I hated camping. To me, camping
was going to a motel," says Baby Jane. "Camp food meant getting
stuff from the deli." But she gave it a try. They traveled 20 miles
a day by covered wagon. They slept in teepees and cared for the pack
animals and did general chores. Hopefully the young offenders would
learn they could succeed through hard work, and they could respect themselves.
was the one riding a mule in velvet pants," she laughs. But Baby
Jane had it just as hard as the kids. She cried every night for the
first week. Then, as she slowly became involved with the kids, talking
and listening, singing with them and laughing, she realized that they
were connecting, and she had a valuable purpose there. Baby Jane stayed
with VisionQuest for two months, but the experience of learning she
had an ability to help people remained with her.
without music as the focus of her life, Baby Jane's life continued unraveling.
She fell in love and was caught in a long tumultuous relationship. She
lost belief in herself. Instead of applause, she faced severe depression.
She was hospitalized and finally helped with medication. She had a close
friend, film historian and AIDS activist, Vito Russo, who stood by her
during all her advance-and-retreat attempts to perform again, but then
in the mid-80's, Vito was diagnosed with AIDS.
was now Baby Jane's turn to help him, and while doing so, he urged her
to go back to her singing career. She finally agreed to sing at the
two benefit concerts for the unveiling of The Names Project Quilt, A
National AIDS Memorial. On the stages of Lincoln Center and the Kennedy
Center, Baby Jane joined luminaries like Senator Ted Kennedy, playwrite
Edward Albee, opera singer Frederica von Stade, and actress Celeste
took another step forward in late 1990. Vito was dying, and Baby Jane
decided to sing a full show for him. She chose Eighty-Eights in Greenwich
Village. It was to be a Sunday afternoon show so that Vito could come.
It was very important to Baby Jane that Vito be at her show. "And
then, just before I was to open, Vito died," she remembers.
Baby Jane did perform, and a few months later, in 1991, she was back
in business at Eighty-Eights. She shaped together a show and a album
called, I Got Thunder, powerfully reflecting her experiences, her grief
and caring for Vito, the depression, her counseling of teens, her doomed
long-term romance, the sadness and self-hatred that can damage a life.
She included two songs Vito had indicated in his will that she sing
at his memorial. Baby Jane, with accompanyist Ross Patterson, was carving
out a new career.
became important was the value of life. There is no more time that is
continued the story in a second show and a second album, Big, Bad, and
Blue -- Live, now stressing healing and new self-confidence. Every song
is part of the story, some new, like "Big Body Woman", and
others are old, like "Blues In the Night". Some are fun, like
the Depression-era song, "One Meatball", which has become
an audience sing-along. Because through it all, Baby Jane Dexter never
lost her wit and humanity. Her third show, The Real Thing - An Intimate
Opera, ran at Eighty-Eights from November through June, and returned
in the fall. This show brought in all the New York City and surrounding
area press, and she received universally rave notices.
want the audience to leave with more than they came in with."
also developed a motivational workshop program. " "Healing
Through Entertainment -- A Motivational Performance Art Experience For
Women". Baby Jane emphasizes being positive, talking through problems,
loving and not hating, using a powerful communication of personal stories,
songs, love. She has taken her workshops through New York City and beyond,
to countless women who are fighting the trauma of depression, domestic
violence, homelessness, rape.
my music and what I choose to sing about,
I take them down the path of entertainment.
I also take them -- if they want to go -- to that place that's safe
to hear what a person might want to hear,
what a person might need to hear."
her return to performing, audiences and critics alike have been quick
to see that connection. It is what makes her such a riveting performer
at venues like Eighty Eights, The Russian Tea Room, The Village Gate,
the Seaport Jazz Festival, The Blue Note in Manhattan, Blues Alley in
Washington DC, and King of France Tavern in Annapolis' Maryland Inn.
She has appeared at the Cinegrill in Los Angeles, the Plush Room in
San Francisco, and Toulouse Cognac Bar in Chicago.
September, 1997 and May 1998, she took part in a prestigious gathering
in New York City, TED/Technotainment. This is a joining of the entertainment
industry with the technology industry, aiming to form the foundation
of America's creative economy in the decades ahead. Featured among the
many prestigious speakers from different fields were Baby Jane Dexter
representing the individual female singer; theater performers; a gospel
choir; the dean of USC Film School; leading authors and magazine writers;
Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks; the President of the American Museum
of Natural History; university authors and professors; the Executive
Director of Sundance Institute, and other illuminaries.
has won the Backstage Bistro Award and she is a multiple winner of the
Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) Female Vocalist Of
the Year award. In 1998, she won the MAC Award for Best Major Pop/Rhythm
& Blues Performer. In 1999, she won that award for the second time.
September 15, 1998, Baby Jane Dexter made her debut at Carnegie Hall's
Weill Recital Hall to acclaim from fans, critics, musical peers. In
December, Baby Jane appeared at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in
the Concord Jazz, multi-talent Christmas show, A Singin, Swingin
continues to appear in major rooms around the country. In April 2002,
Baby Jane won the MAC Award for Major jazz/Pop/Rhythm & Blues Vocalist
of the Year.