William J. Kole
BOSTON: Longtime Sha Na Na member Lennie Baker, who sang lead on the doo-wop favorite Blue Moon and appeared in the 1978 hit movie Grease, has died at age 69.
He died Wednesday in Weymouth, where he had been briefly hospitalized after developing an infection, his nephew David Baker said.
Lennie Baker spent 30 years touring with Sha Na Na as a vocalist and saxophone player. He performed Blue Moon at Carnegie Hall and around the world and often said it was his favorite tune. With his health failing, he left the group in 2000 and was living in an assisted-care facility for the past two years.
A cousin, Ron Fedele, said Baker “loved to play.”
“He’d pick up a sax, and the crowd would go crazy,” Fedele said Friday. “He was kind of electric — a big magnetic draw. He had a booming voice that would rattle the windows when he sang in the car. And he had a heart of gold.”
Another former Sha Na Na member, Dennis Greene, died in September.
Baker appeared with other Sha Na Na members in Grease, which featured them under the stage name Johnny Casino and the Gamblers and starred John Travolta as Danny and Olivia Newton-John as Sandy. Baker also had appearances on the TV show Sha Na Na, which aired in the late 1970s.
Sha Na Na co-founder Donny York paid tribute to Baker in a Facebook post, calling him “a man of no few words, many of them in ‘for the ages’ territory.”
Baker was born on April 18, 1946, in Whitman, south of Boston. He played with the 1950s group Danny and the Juniors before joining Sha Na Na.
Drummer Tom Lombardo’s brother was in a 1960s band with Baker called the Pilgrims, whose members dressed up in buckled hats and other Pilgrim garb. He said Baker was “a really, really nice guy.”
“They used to call him Plymouth Rock because he was always big,” Lombardo said.
Baker’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Whitman.