Baker was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri, and got his degree in music from Southwest Baptist College. He later went to the West Coast in the 1930s to arrange music scores for radio. He became the Musical Director on Bob Hope's radio show. One of his first hits as a big band arranger on record was "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" for the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He later became a professor at L.A. City College in the early 1950s. Among his early students was Jerry Goldsmith.
At about this time, his friend George Bruns asked him to compose music for the Disney television show Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. He stayed on at the Disney studio, and eventually became its music director, as well as chief composer for Disneyland and other Disney theme parks.
Baker was nominated for an Academy Award for his score in the film Napoleon and Samantha. His work appears in many Disney cartoons and featurettes, including Donald in Mathmagic Land, which was nominated for a 1959 Academy Award (Best Documentary - Short Subjects). In 1978, he composed the music for the first Walt Disney Home Video logo, known as the "Neon Mickey" logo. The music was a loud string fanfare.
Baker arranged and conducted most of the Winnie-the-Pooh musical featurettes. In 1999 at the age of 82 he conducted the music for the The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh theme park attractions worldwide.
The eerie music played throughout the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland was another work by Baker, as was the infectious theme to Walt Disney World's If You Had Wings. Baker arranged the medley of French classical music that accompanies the film Impressions de France at EPCOT Center, which artfully integrates works by Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy and Erik Satie, among others. The music to the Tokyo DisneySea theme park attraction Journey to the Center of the Earth, which opened in 2001, was also composed by Baker.
Baker retired from Disney having been the last contracted music staff composer still on contract at any studio. Although occasionally returning to work on theme park, film and television projects, he spent the majority of his later years teaching film scoring at the USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. He held that job until his death in 2002. His interment was at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery. In 2004, Baker's wife Charlotte donated his papers to the Fales Library at NYU.
He was named a Disney Legend in 1998
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