Remembering Baby Jane Dexter

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Remembering Baby Jane Dexter


Cabaret icon Baby Jane Dexter passed away on Tuesday, May 21 at the age of 72. Cabaret Scenes has asked her colleagues, friends, and fans to submit their memories of her. Join this tribute to this great lady by sending your thoughts to We will continue to add to this post as more memories are submitted.

Karen Akers
Baby Jane and I go back to the days of Reno Sweeney in the early ’70s when Lewis Friedman kick-started both our careers in cabaret. After 46 years of mutual admiration and support, I wish BJ and I had had more time to reminisce. In the end, ever so sadly, multiple health issues weighed so heavily that even Baby Jane couldn’t find a way to overcome. Losing her now feels twice as sad because I had just made plans with a mutual friend in New Jersey to go and visit her at The Actors Home.

She was a fellow contralto—the lowest female voice—and I loved the fact that whenever she released a CD, I knew I’d be able to sing along. She and her Musical Director, Ross Patterson, made fabulous music together at their memorable shows! With Ross’ beautiful, intuitive support, Baby Jane used her voice, rich with emotion and power, to “sock it to us” with stunning honesty.

I remember how happy Baby Jane and I were to find each other at one of our mutual friend, Nadya’s trunk shows. Nadya lives on Bali, and twice a year she would bring her unique and gorgeous designs to New York, making a steady contribution to Baby Jane’s sartorial splendor on stage. Even now, I often wear a hand-painted tunic that I’m sure would have been Baby Jane’s had she seen it first. When we didn’t actually go together, we would always ask Nadya to set aside anything we felt would be perfect for the other.

Something that people may not know about Baby Jane is that until she could no longer travel, she worked with troubled and at risk kids who needed counseling on a range of issues, including drug use and addiction. I think that work meant as much to her as her singing, maybe more. Baby Jane was unique. I’m just one of many who will miss her.

Lesley Alexander
If you were lucky enough to see Baby Jane Dexter on stage then you caught sight of a lion protecting her young—Baby Jane was the lion, and her songs were her babies. She’d growl, and swing from side to side, moving in rhythm to the music, attacking each phrase with an intensity rarely witnessed in a club performer. But it wasn’t only that signature lower register that propelled Baby Jane to icon status. It was her heart. Her open, big, raw, honest heart filled with emotions, infused into every lyric, propelling her music forward. It was edgy, deeply felt, and moving—all in a truly unique style. And off-stage… well off-stage you never found a bigger heart. Over many lunches we’d discuss the art of performance and Baby Jane (“don’t call me Jane, that’s my mother”) never failed to entertain me with her insights and good humor. I’m sorry to say that we didn’t have many of these meetings in her later years. Life often takes away from our best intentions. But, I already miss those greetings filled with passion and warmth and a tight hug. May the music follow you always.

Goldie Dver
I can remember the very first time I saw Baby Jane perform at Reno Sweeney in the ’70s. My best friend Brian was a waiter there, and he’d always get me in for free and I’d sit at the back of the room taking it all in.

I was new to New York, and though I had sung my whole life, this new world of New York Cabaret mesmerized me and had me under its spell immediately.

I saw everyone who came through that room—Peter Allen, Jane Oliver, Blossom Dearie, Novella Nelson, Melissa Manchester, to name a few and, of course, Baby Jane Dexter.

Even among such a group of heavy hitters, Baby Jane stood out from the beginning. The rich smokey voice was wonderful, but it was what she said in her songs—how she could take ANY song and make you feel like you where hearing it for the first time and understanding what the lyric really meant.

And there was the raw emotion, without artifice; just the unashamed baring of her soul, without one speck of self-pity. Then, Baby Jane would start talking, and we’d start laughing. The woman could digress with the best of them. An evening with Baby Jane always left me wrung out emotionally, and yet exhilarated at the same time.

I missed her for that decade when she wasn’t performing, but wasn’t really aware what was going on and why she had stopped. Then, in later years I became friends with her through our mutual friend, Drey. And I was happy to see that with BJ, what you saw was what you got. She was always herself, onstage and off. You needed to be on your toes and ready for the whirlwind of energy that was Baby Jane Dexter when you hung out with her.

I was thrilled when she finally made the decision to come back to cabaret.

She had lost nothing in that decade she was away. Quite the opposite. She now invested every new life experience she had had during that time, into her work, which only enriched her performances even more than before.

As a regular on the Joey Reynold’s show on WOR radio, Friday night’s Jewish Hour (1998-2009), I saw hundreds of performers come through and promote their shows, sometimes singing live or playing a cut from their CD and trying to make an impression in what was a very tough room to hold your own. Whenever Baby Jane came on the show, all we had to do was sit back and let it happen. I always loved her visits, and I laughed so hard the evenings she was in the studio.

I’ll always have very special memories of Baby Jane, and I agree wholeheartedly with all the things people are saying about her.

She gave all of herself to us—I only hope she knew how much we all loved her and appreciated those beautiful gifts.

To paraphrase Sondheim –
Here’s to her!
Who’s like her?
Damn few!!

Goldie Dver

Bobbie Horowitz
While I was always captivated by watching Baby Jane Dexter onstage, I was even more moved by her simple humanity when we’d go out for a dinner before a show or just put an evening aside to talk. I didn’t really get to know her (aside from hugging her after she’d do a cabaret show) until I was in my early 70s. I remember seeing her perform in Hartford at the beginning of this decade. We were both involved with removing prejudice against AIDS victims and getting good care for them. While her personality was gigantic onstage, as a friend she was very simple and honest and supportive and loving. She didn’t act like a “star” to her friends. She was always “real” and she and I felt free to ask each other to save seats for each other if we knew we were attending the same show and couldn’t get to the club early enough to be sure of getting a good seat. I know she didn’t have the simplest younger years, but she was still able to remain thoughtful and kind. I feel blessed to have known her. I truly believe she benefited our planet.

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Pat Hugues
I just came across this post card that I received for Baby Jane’s 2012 show. I met Baby Jane and went to many of her shows before it with my friend George Speck, who we lost almost a year ago. Baby Jane often joined us for dinner either at a restaurant or his house and we spent hours laughing together. Besides being a marvelous entertainer she was a great friend to George and I miss them both.

Laurie Krauz
I revered Baby Jane. I met her early in my foray through our cabaret world. I remember the first time she recognized me and called me by name and was kind about my work. It knocked me out. She might as well have been one of the Beatles saying these things to me (just knowing my name!). Her work always moved me beyond description and I cherish the gift of knowing, hearing, and experiencing the force of nature that will always be Baby Jane Dexter.

Beck Lee
Baby Jane was indeed indomitable, a force of nature, one of the most captivating and commanding cabaret artists I’ve ever seen. She played many storied clubs over the years, but it was at the Metropolitan Room which was her artistic home in the last few years of her performing career (she also played several engagements at Pangea after the Met Room closed in 2017) that I got to know her and fell under her spell.

There was the time she collapsed on stage in 2012 and continued her show while the EMTs attended to her, even singing her theme song “Hold On” as they led her off on a gurney. And then in 2015, after I and several others had started whispering that she was finished and should probably stop performing, word got to me that something important had happened. Instead of teetering unsteadily on stage, Baby Jane was performing in a wheel chair and, they told me, she seemed to be more relaxed and at peace and her singing was stronger than ever. I saw it for myself and realized she wasn’t fighting her illness, she was playing through it and accepting it.

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Stephen Holden of The New York Times was skeptical about reviewing her November 2015 show, It’s Personal!, telling me privately he didn’t want to see her embarrass herself again. But he was persuaded to come, and the show was indeed a triumph. His hallelujah review in which he said “she was bowed but not unbroken” and “her skill at delivering a lyric with forceful honesty had only sharpened” sent us all over the moon. Her next dates, with a new show every year, that she encored over Thanksgiving and Christmas, were always packed and some of the most exciting shows seen at the much-missed Metropolitan Room.

Billie Roe
It still hasn’t hit me that such a force of nature has left us. Baby Jane Dexter seemed invincible to me, and such a rare human being. Out spoken. A supporter of women. A true feminist. A bold artist. Unapologetic in life and on the stage. Although she and I played all the NYC clubs in the late ’70s, I never got a chance to see Jane until she started playing the Metropolitan Room in more recent years. She lived up to her reputation and did not disappoint. She was so powerful on stage we went back to see her on our yearly pilgrimage. Honestly, I feel blessed to have experienced her as an artist, a person, and the grand dame of Cabaret she was. There will never be another like her.

Steve Ross

Photo: Rose Billings

This remarkable lady and I first crossed paths in about 1969. I’d just moved here and was working at an improv/open mic place on W. 44th called The African Room.

For the first few years, she sang big blues numbers and novelties then, as time passed, she bent her considerable charisma and talents to more powerful, relevant blues songs not shying away from topics such as women’s rights and even prison rape.

We had a great many laughs together. I always enjoyed making music with her and there wasn’t anyone more kind. Ironically it was to the Actors Home that she repaired countless times to see her own mother during HER final days.

I do miss this loving and immensely thoughtful and talented lady…very much.